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« Reply #8850 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:12 AM »


Kenya: my mission to become the first female Masai warrior

Driven to test the tribe's male-dominated culture Mindy Budgor went to Kenya … to become the first female Masai warrior

Mindy Budgor
The Guardian, Friday 6 September 2013 21.00 BST   

It was 5.12am, deep in Kenya's Forest of the Lost Child. Seven Masai warriors, standing with spears high in the sky and ready to kill, were huddled around me. I was nudged by one of the taut, muscular bodies, scantily covered in its tiny red tartan cotton robe, and I had to make a decision: be a warrior by joining the front line to protect my tribe from a snorting, slobbering 500kg bitch of a buffalo, or stay on the sidelines by hustling up a tree to watch from above as the true warriors went to battle.

A year before, my instincts might have said something else, but by this time I had seven weeks of warrior training under my beaded belt, and a renewed trust in my personal power. I looked the buffalo straight in the eye and with a flex of my muscles, I charged like the warrior I had trained to be, sprinting and screaming with the spear ready to strike.

The Masai are a semi-nomadic tribe living in Kenya and Tanzania. Their warriors are similar to a typical military force, but the main offenders in the bush are the lions, buffalo, elephants and hippo. While the goal of the tribe is to live in harmony with the land and the animals, the warriors will back away from nothing if the community is in harm's way. Showing one hint of fear as a warrior is strictly prohibited.

One standard practice to prove a warrior's strength is the circumcision, which occurs when a male is in his teens. The procedure is not a little snip snip – it is a complete skinning of the penis. One wince during this procedure could get you shunned from society. The Masai live in the wild in homes made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, human urine and ash, and their diet is animal blood, meat and milk. I was a 27-year-old Jewish girl from California, who had spent the past four years building a concierge service for college students. I spent four years building the business before selling it.

My most extreme backpacking excursion had been on a cruise ship to Alaska. I loved my manicures and pedicures, and driving around in my BMW and I believed that life wouldn't be OK without a just-out-of-the-oven croissant and a cup of Earl Grey tea in the morning. But I wanted to test myself. After selling my company I started applying to business schools. Once the applications were submitted, I faced a significant time gap. I sent out an email to solicit ideas. A college friend responded, raving about a trip she took with a US-based foundation that sends westerners to places, including Kenya, to help build schools and clinics. The particular trip my friend mentioned was to build a clinic in the Masai Mara game reserve in south-western Kenya. This was the type of experience I wanted, so I submitted a check and the registration for the trip the same day.

On the flight from Nairobi, I peered down at the thin, twisting valleys etched through parched, dusty-brown land dotted with fluffy green treetops. When the pilot pointed out the volunteer centre, a pinprick of a settlement in the middle of the savanna, I knew that being left alone with my thoughts and nature was exactly what I needed.

For the next two weeks, while laying bricks and making mortar with the locals, I learned about the Masai. I took morning hikes with Winston, a chief from the tribe and also our guide while volunteering. His deep, almost spiritual sense of purpose and confidence was what I wanted.

Winston explained that his tribe was at a crossroads because the Kenyan government was taking away more and more of its land and because global warming meant continual droughts that caused their cattle (their main asset) to die. There was widespread fear among the tribe that the Masai culture will no longer exist in 50 years.

Losing the integrity of a tribe because of westernisation seemed unacceptable to me, but I felt one element of modern life – women's rights – could help the tribe continue while remaining true to its practices and beliefs.

Masai women are extraordinarily strong: they build homes, chop trees for firewood, walk seven hours a day to fetch water. But they are not treated as equals. I knew that the warriors had the utmost respect in the tribe and that they were given greater access to education and not married off when they were 12. I believed that providing women with the right to become warriors would broaden the tribe's perspective of their personal power, which could only help them fight to maintain their customs.

On a hike I asked Winston the question that had been gnawing at me since I met him: "How many women are warriors?"

His reply: "None. Women aren't strong or brave enough to do it."

His response ignited a fire within me that made me want prove him wrong. I asked him to explain what was involved in becoming a warrior. He said: "You need to be a man. You need to go through rites of passage that only a man can do. You need to live where you can only eat meat and drink blood and herb soup that makes you lose your mind. You need to get circumcised and not wince from the pain. You need to be fearless. You need to protect and entertain your community and be able to face any animal head-on. You need to be able to throw a spear and use a sword with total accuracy. And you need to be a man

I said: "Don't Masai women want to be warriors?"

"Of course they do. Who wouldn't want to be like us?"

"And they've never had a chance?"

"No."

"But everything you just said is something a woman can do – something I can do – except for the penis part," I said.

The Chief wasn't entertained. "Women aren't built emotionally or physically for the work that warriors do." He shrugged his sculpted shoulders and turned back to the mountain. Winston's words and that shrug made me furious! I can take no for an answer if there's a good reason, but the idea that women couldn't be warriors just because they weren't men wasn't sitting well with me. Winston and I made a deal that if I left my stilettos behind, he would take me through the traditional rites of passage to become a warrior.

I was excited about this, and tried not to spend any time thinking about the dangers. But later that day Faith, a Masai woman who worked at the volunteer centre, told me that women in her tribe had been trying to get the right to be warriors for generations, and if for some reason a white, Jewish girl had the opportunity to make a change, I should take it seriously.

I went home to California to prepare for a longer stay with the Masai, but after reviewing myself in my bedroom mirror, I wondered if my pleasantly plump figure was going to be able to climb a tree if needed. Deciding not to wait until a hippo was about to swallow me whole, I started training to get myself fit.

Two months later, I returned to Kenya with Becca, a friend from the US. Becca and I had met in Kenya on the building trip and became friends when we agreed that women should have the right to be warriors. Landing in Nairobi, we travelled back to the clinic and found Winston, the chief.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. I reminded him of our deal. Clearly, he hadn't taken me seriously, and despite our pleading, turned us down. He said he would not have the deaths of two Americans on his head.

Becca and I were back at our hotel in Nairobi. Our project seemed roadblocked when out of the blue a friend from California introduced us to the man who would guide us through the rites of passage: Lanet Danson Lekuroun, a university-educated Masai warrior who was raised to believe that women's voices should be heard.

"I can't promise that you will become warriors. I also can't tell you that my tribe will accept you. There is going to be much danger. I will do my best to help prepare you, but there is no way to predict the future in my world or yours. All we can do is try."

Within hours we piled into a taxi and were on the road headed into the bush – again. As the main road ended, my teeth clenched and my hands were in tight fists as we slowly crept over rocks and tall grass. On the way, Lanet explained that a new warrior class only happens every five to seven years, but the training that he would put us through would be exactly the same as what the Masai men do.

Lanet also told us that he had chosen six other Masai men to live with us deep in the forest while we underwent training. He said the men chosen were known as community leaders and also quite progressive in their thoughts about women's rights.

For the next two months, we lived on a 20-square-foot patch of land in the forest and slept in a communal bed made mainly of oak leaves. On many occasions, I truly believed that I was going to die.

On day one, we were almost stampeded by elephants, and I had to suffocate a goat and then drink its blood directly from the jugular. On day two, my hands were covered with bloody blisters from learning how to use a spear and a sword. And a few weeks later, I was very nearly swallowed by a hippo. It was only a pull of my belt by a fellow warrior that yanked me back.

I had a daily urge to wave the white flag, especially after 10 smelly days without a bath. But just as the flag was about to go up, Lanet would remind me that this mission was about much more than my personal goal. And this reminder allowed me to transition to Masai life. I quickly learned that by just doing and not questioning, I would have a greater chance of surviving.

Initially, the tribesmen thought that Becca and I would last less than a day. Surely the nightly calls from the hyenas or the diet of raw kidneys and goat brain soup would make us bolt back to a five-star hotel. Once several weeks passed, however, we proved that we were able to live an authentic Masai life. Most important, though, our values adapted to those of the Masai, which revolve around community, courage, selflessness and living in the moment.

After a little over four weeks of training, we moved camp to a more dangerous part of the forest. It was a regular day of spear training and trekking until we purposely went to what the Masai called a "buffalo playground" so that we could test our mental and physical strength.

Just as we arrived, we saw a baby buffalo grazing on the grass. Everyone went silent as we knew that the calf would not be far from its mother. If the mother saw us, she would try to kill us to protect her baby. I stood petrified, as the ground started to rumble. The baby buffalo trotted to the edge of the field and the sea of green parted again to reveal the meanest animal I had ever seen.

Grunting and howling, I sprinted towards the beast and released my spear. As it rocketed through the air, the other Masai released their spears, but mine landed first, in the edge of the buffalo's right butt cheek. The buffalo died, but only because it was going to kill us. I was able to claim the kill because my spear hit the buffalo first.

That night, the elders decided that Becca and I had proved we were strong and brave enough to be warriors. They felt that the training we had gone through and our fearlessness and selflessness were at an equal level to the male warriors. One of the elders, who was a senior leader of the Rhino clan, inducted us into his clan with a short ceremony followed by a long speech over the fire, which allowed us to be officially recognised as the first female Masai warriors.

We stayed with the Masai for another month. Our first major community interaction was at a wedding, two days after we left the forest. Lanet told us hundreds of people would be at the wedding. It would be like my coming-out party. Lanet had said from the beginning that he wasn't sure if his tribe would accept us, and we were finally going to find out their true feelings.

At the wedding we sang and danced as warriors. I felt completely at one with the tribe until an elder male approached me, screaming and waving his sword. I was paralysed with fear and just as he swung his sword again, Lanet and another warrior whisked me away. I asked what happened. Lanet told me that the man was angry that Becca and I had been recognised as warriors.

He said: "This is now up to the tribal leadership to decide if Masai females will have the right to become warriors. There will be much opposition, but there will be, and already is, much support."

While making this change is not unanimously accepted by men and women in the tribe, the vast majority believe steps towards equality will help sustain the culture in the long term, and one of those steps is allowing women to become warriors. And I am so proud to say that there are at least 20 girls in Loita who are ready to be part of the next warrior age set.

As a result of our training and advocacy, the Masai in Loita, Kenya, are leading the charge to change tribal law and allow all Masai women the right to become warriors.

• For information on holidays in Kenya see magicalkenya.com. Mindy Budgor's book, Warrior Princess, is published by Allen & Unwin, price £12.99. To buy a copy for £10.39 with free UK p&p call 0330 333 6846 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

**************

Mindy's Masai Mara adventure is an insult to us all

American woman who claims to be the first female Masai warrior is perpetuating troubling stereotypes for personal gain

Sitinga Kachipande for Africa on the Blog, part of the Guardian Africa Network   
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013 15.21 BST   

The story of Mindy Budgor, a white, middle class American who travelled to Kenya to live amongst the Masai Mara for three months to do charity work, is a troubling narrative for Africans. According to her blog, Budgor went to Kenya to build schools and hospitals before starting her MBA. While in Kenya, she asked the village chief why there were no women warriors. He apparently told her it was because Masai women are not "strong enough or brave enough".

Inspired by feminism, she sets out to prove that women can become warriors – and ultimately becomes the first female warrior in her "tribe". Budgor then returns home, attends the University of Chicago and is now putting her business skills to good use by marketing a book about her experiences. Her account, which has been reproduced widely - including in the Guardian, is problematic because it evokes popular narratives in western imaginations that Africans have been battling to redress for years.

The Great Savior

Budgor markets herself as a do-gooder who leaves her job to go and help others in Kenya. Although I don't doubt that she may have played some role in building schools and hospitals, I would be interested to know more about the work she actually did. Building schools and hospitals requires a lot of energy – particularly whilst training to become a warrior. According to accounts on Masai culture by the Masai Association, becoming a warrior is not that simple. Boys are required to live away from their village for several months, going through different rituals. The suggestion that she was able to do all this in three months should be met with suspicion. It is reminiscent of the many exaggerated claims made about "aid work" in Africa.

In Budgor's case, she not only becomes a warrior, she becomes a princess as suggested by her book, "Warrior Princess: My Quest to become the First Female Masai Warrior". She became a princess and a warrior? This is an insult to systems of descent and initiation in Masai culture.

She takes the narrative of the great "white saviour" further by stressing how she is donating a portion of proceeds to non-profit foundations helping women in Kenya preserve their culture (the one she tried to change?). She could have thought of more practical and sustainable work, such as supporting the Masai women entrepreneurs. There are also a number of projects and needs that the Masai Association has identified.

Ultimately, Masai women are fighting their own battles for the rights that are important to them. By stealing the spotlight Budgor undermines this work. Dr Kakenya Ntaiya's essay, "Warrior's Spirit: The Stories of Four Women from Kenya's Enduring Tribe" provides us with narratives of such women. There is also further evidence that Budgor's portrayal of patriarchy amongst the Masai exaggerates the extent of gender inequality. According to the Masai Association, both women and men fight for specific cultural rituals. In fact, all over pre-colonial Africa women were priests, queens, leaders, teachers, doctors and warriors.

Kenyan reactions

Africans and particularly Kenyans have been less then supportive of Budgor's adventures:

hambaumhlungu writes on Glamour.com

    As an African man who became a full professor in an American university in just two weeks, I appreciate Mindy's struggle. I was visiting the University of ** when I asked a young man named Josh how many African professors there were. Josh, who was a prince in his own suburb in New Jersey, exclaimed: "None, of course. It would be too hard for you Africans." We must change this, I insisted, and asked what I had to do to become a full professor. "You must shotgun a six-pack and toke on a bong," he said. "But you can't do that. You are too weak and will be wasted in no time." I told my parents I was being sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education to become a professor, then I went to Josh's dorm room, where I spotted a six-pack. I immediately shotgunned every beer. "Give me a bong now," I said, amazed at my own audacity. He did so, shocked by my perseverance. I managed to hold in my coughs, although my lungs were bursting. Later I took part in the Saturday night ritual where I danced the "Full Professor Dance". This is why I sympathise with Mindy and applaud her remarkable book. I look forward to spearing lions with her on the Serengeti soon.

Rarin Ole Sein writes on TMSruge.com

    That she is making money off of this! That hurts! No difference between her and the colonialist or the slave traders….in my view she just came to take period! I would like to know if any of her book proceeds go back to the any of the people she used.


Similar sentiments by Kenyan women were shared on the blog Africa is a Country.

Budgor's tale can be dismissed as one of simple cultural naiveté – but it relies on an underlying narrative of cultural commodification that she is ready to exploit. The idea that anyone can come in to a society, assume their practices, and liberate their women in a few weeks is absurd. It is also insulting to Masai culture, as the analogy by hambaumhlungu highlights. Whilst her experience was somewhat "real", her initiation was most likely symbolic and one hopes that she recognises it as such.

Lucrative book deal

Lastly, Budgor also needs to be seen as a businesswoman who is out to sell a book to a target audience – the thousands of women just like her who may be inspired to follow in her footsteps with a limitless imagination (Perhaps, some like her may aspire to become the first female president of an African country). She commodifies Masai culture for western consumption and for a lucrative book deal. She also seems oblivious to how her presence and behaviour is disruptive to the community. Where does it leave other female activists who have been working on the ground to make genuine changes in their own culture? Stories like hers do need to be addressed from African perspectives, particularly when highlighting how "do-gooders" profit from African culture and essence are not doing "good" at all.

Sitinga Kachipande is a Masters candidate in Pan African Studies at Syracuse University


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« Reply #8851 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:14 AM »


September 19, 2013

As Oil Thieves Bleed Nigeria, Report Says, Officials Profit

By ADAM NOSSITER
IHT

DAKAR, Senegal — Oil is being stolen on an “industrial scale” in Nigeria, the world’s 13th largest producer, and the country’s politicians and security officials are among those profiting, according to a new report from a prominent British research group.

Thieves steal an estimated average of 100,000 barrels a day, the report said; working in elaborate networks and protected by corrupted security officials, they tap into the huge and isolated network of pipes that crisscross the country’s swampy southern Niger Delta region. The price of oil fluctuates, but a hypothetical per-barrel price of $100 would mean an annual loss of $3.65 billion. Oil closed at $107.28 per barrel on Thursday.

Much of this oil winds up being exported globally, said the report, which was released Thursday by the London-based organization Chatham House. The problem has reached such proportions that major oil companies operating in Nigeria have recently complained that theft is cutting significantly into production.

A similar report last year, commissioned by the Nigerian government but largely ignored, said that over the preceding decade, thieves had been stealing 6 percent to 30 percent of the country’s daily production. “Hydrocarbon theft is a major source of loss of revenue to the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” said that report, prepared by the country’s former top anticorruption official, Nuhu Ribadu. It described the problem then as an “emergency.”

The full extent of the country’s larcenous ingenuity is on display in the oil thievery. There is “theft from tank farms, refinery storage tanks, jetties and ports,” according to the Nigerian report. “Officials and private actors disguise theft through manipulation of meters and shipping documents.”

Small-scale pipeline tapping operations can easily be detected in short daytime trips into the swamps from the Niger Delta’s population centers. Telltale plumes of smoke from illegal refining operations rise above the water.

But more significant “bunkering,” as oil theft is known here, involves siphoning oil from pipes on land or underwater, loading it onto small barges, then transferring it to bigger barges offshore in the Gulf of Guinea. Sometimes thieves use pipes up to 12 inches in diameter to tap the lines, according to Chatham House. Sometimes crude is stolen from export terminals.

The Chatham House report underscored profiteering at high levels.

“Top Nigerian officials cut their teeth in the oil theft business during military rule,” it said. “Over time, evidence surfaced that corrupt members of the security forces were actively involved. The country’s return to democracy in 1999 then gave some civilian officials and political ‘godfathers’ more access to stolen oil.” Security officials are said to extort payments from the oil thieves in return for protection, according to Chatham House.

The Chatham House report suggested that high oil prices have contributed to the incentive to steal. But it was inconclusive on the question of how much of the stolen crude was exported, and how much was processed in operations in the Nigerian swamps. “The bush refining business is highly decentralized and secretive,” it said, “which makes its size hard to estimate.”

Mr. Ribadu’s report gave a higher possible figure for the scale of daily theft — 250,000 barrels — but the Chatham House document emphasized the unreliability of figures from government and oil companies. Mr. Ribadu suggested, in stronger terms than the more recent document, that the problem is growing, noting that Shell claimed a fivefold increase in losses between 2009 and 2012, from 10,000 barrels per day to 50,000 in March of last year.

Chatham House, by contrast, said that “outsiders should look closely at claims that Nigeria is losing oil at unheard-of rates,” adding that “the high divergence in industrywide estimates makes it hard to gauge trends reliably.”


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« Reply #8852 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:15 AM »

September 19, 2013

Mali: French President Declares Victory Over Jihadists

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

President François Hollande of France declared Thursday that the war against Islamic extremists had been won in Mali, though he vowed to keep French forces in the country as long as the threat existed. Mr. Hollande spoke at the inauguration of Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. Islamic militant groups were able to seize control of northern Mali after a March 2012 coup. As they threatened to push farther south, France launched a military operation in January that was joined by other countries, forcing the jihadists to retreat. But some analysts cast doubt on Mr. Hollande’s claim of victory. There are “persistent reports that jihadists have either started filtering back into Mali or never left,” said Andrew Lebovich, an expert on the region.
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« Reply #8853 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:16 AM »


September 19, 2013

Libya: Qaddafi’s Son Appears in a Tribal Court

By REUTERS

Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a son and the onetime political heir of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, appeared in a tribal court on Thursday after the militia holding him defied an order from the state to deliver him to the capital, Tripoli. Mr. Qaddafi was captured nearly two years ago by the militia fighters. Asked by the judge whether he wanted to be tried in Tripoli, Mr. Qaddafi, who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court, said he preferred to remain in Zintan, 90 miles southwest of Tripoli. The trial in Zintan, unrelated to charges of crimes against humanity for which he is wanted in Tripoli and The Hague, involves a lesser charge of giving restricted information to an I.C.C. lawyer. Some Libyans say the Zintan fighters are doing more to protect him than to bring him to justice. In the power struggle between different militias since Colonel Qaddafi’s fall, the Zintan fighters have aligned themselves with tribes that once formed Colonel Qaddafi’s power base.
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« Reply #8854 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:18 AM »


Moroccan editor arrested for doing his job

Roy Greenslade   
Friday 20 September 2013 08.17 BST theguardian.com   

The Moroccan authorities arrested a news website editor, Ali Anouzla, on Tuesday (17 September) after he posted an article about a jihadist video, reports Human Rights Watch.

Police arrested Anouzla at his home in Rabat and seized computer hard drives from the office of the Arabic-language site Lakome.com.

The prosecutor who ordered Anouzla's arrest said the video, which was attributed to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), "contained a clear call and direct incitement to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Morocco."

But Anouzla did not post the video - called "Morocco, kingdom of corruption and despotism" - nor link to it. Instead, his article contained a link to a blog post about the video that had previously appeared on the website of the Spanish daily newspaper El País. He was, in other words, doing his job as a journalist by reporting information.

Morocco's justice ministry has announced that it will sue El País in Spain for providing a link to the video, saying it onstituted incitement to commit terrorist acts in Morocco.

"Ali Anouzla, like journalists around the world, considers it his job to cover what al-Qaeda and its affiliates say and do," said Joe Stork, the acting Middle East and north Africa HRW director.

"When authorities confuse reporting with endorsing, they scare off other journalists who are legitimately reporting on such movements."
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« Reply #8855 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:30 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

Don't panic: Earth has at least 1.75 billion years to go, scientists say

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / September 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm EDT

Earth has at least 1.75 billion years left, scientists have found. That means that Homo sapiens, in the unlikely event that the species will persist all that time, have used up about 0.01142857142 percent of their time on Earth so far.

A team of British researchers has developed a model for determining how long a planet can expect to be within its sun’s habitable zone – the sweet spot just far enough to the sun so that the planet’s water doesn’t sizzle into vapor but just close enough to the sun so that it doesn’t freeze.

The model, reported in the journal Astrobiology aimed at assessing which planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, might be in that comfortable zone long enough for intelligent life to make its gradual appearance there. In doing so, it also offers a prediction for Earth’s remaining time.

Most exoplanet research is underpinned by one all-important question: “Is this planet habitable?” To answer that question, scientists often begin by asking if that planet falls within the star’s habitable zone, where liquid water, an ingredient thought to be critical for life, could be available.

But just how the bounds of the habitable zone are calculated and plotted has been the subject of much debate in recent years, as exoplanet research now includes not just hunting those planets, but also classifying them.

Researchers, for example, have debated what effect cloud cover might have on the range in which a planet might be habitable. Perhaps, clouds might keep a planet close to the sun cooler than it otherwise would have been, protecting its surface water reserves from evaporation, researchers have proposed.

Still, as the latest paper’s authors note, what is not controversial is that the habitable zone, however it is defined, fluctuates over time. Over billions of years, a star’s brightness increases, and planets once in that sweet spot begin to broil.

“Toward the end of a planet’s [habitable zone] lifetime, steadily increasing stellar luminosity is likely to result in a runaway greenhouse event, which would represent a catastrophic and terminal extinction event for any surface biosphere present on the planet,” write the authors, in the paper.

So, in the hunt for extraterrestrial life, the question, “is it habitable?” is not meaningful without also answering, “for how long is it habitable?”

That’s because life takes a long time to develop – or at least so it seems based on our experience here on Earth. Here, on this planet formed about 4.5 billion years ago, we didn’t get single-celled organisms, called prokaryotes, until about 3.6 billion years ago, and bacteria that could photosynthesize didn’t pop up until 2 million years after that. Fish then turned up about 500 millions of years ago, then insects about 200 million years ago, and then dinosaurs about 200 million years ago.

Humans, following up on the evolution of mammals, birds, and flowers, have spent just 200,000 years on this planet. We are, essentially, the scrubby, ultra-thin tip of an eraser, topping a long pencil of time that precedes us.

All this suggests that good candidates for life outside our solar system must have enough time in their star’s sweet spot – more than 4.5 billion years, it seems – for that life to burgeon.

In search of those planets on which Earth’s life-hunting resources are best spent, the team modeled the expected habitable zone lifetime for seven confirmed exoplanets and 27 of the Kepler telescope’s exoplanet candidates, as well as the lifetime for Earth.

Earth, according to the model, has a habitable zone lifetime as long as 7.79 billion years, meaning that the planet has about 3.29 billion years left, though the scientists said that the figure could be as low as 1.75 billion years. So, we are about 70 percent of the way through our planet’s lifespan, and about 0.01 percent of the way through humans’ lifetime on Earth, should we survive another 1.75 billion years – which scientists say is unlikely, given that the planet is expected to become warmer and warmer as the sun brightens.

Rising temperatures would be catastrophic to humans far before the Earth reached its broiling end, the researchers said.

Mars, though, has a much longer habitable zone lifetime than does Earth. The Red Planet might someday as a prime viewing platform for our descendants a billions of years from now to observe Earth as it roasts.

“If we ever needed to move to another planet, Mars is probably our best bet. It’s very close and will remain in the habitable zone until the end of the Sun’s lifetime – six billion years from now,” said Andrew Rushby, a researcher at the University of East Anglia, in a statement.

In the far-flung cosmos, planets orbiting low mass stars have longer habitable zone lifetimes, the authors found. For example, Gliese 581d, a possible planet in the constellation Libra, has a lifetime of between 42.4 to 54.7 billion years – plenty of time for life to swell there, the authors said. Since its star, 581, is considered to be small and slow-burning, its planets have often been floated as possible life-harbors. In October 2008, the Ukrainian National Space Agency beamed a radio signal toward the star’s system; it should arrive in the 581 galactic ZIP code in 2029.

Of course, the habitable zone lifetime is not the sole factor in determining whether or not a planet is habitable, the researchers said. Even if a planet is within the sun’s habitable zone for billions and billions of years – enough time, theoretically, for life and all its dramas and stories, big and small, to slowly unfold – that does not mean that the planet has life of any kind, let alone intelligent life.

For life to be there, the planet must also have experienced untold numbers of happy accidents – as well as eluded unimaginable numbers of unhappy accidents – of the sort that produced wet, green and oxygen-rich Earth. Mars, for example, is in our sun’s habitable zone. But, after a catastrophic event tore up its atmosphere some 4 billion years ago, its wet and warm days ebbed into cold and dry ones, its green and featured landscape into a red-brown and blank one.

“The planets in our sample are unlikely to conform to all these conditions,” wrote the authors, citing Earth’s life-conducive planetary mass and composition, plate tectonics, and atmospheric pressure and composition.

“To date, a true Earth analog planet has not been detected,” the authors wrote.


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« Reply #8856 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Analysis of Curiosity’s findings dashes hopes of finding life on Mars

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 19, 2013 18:55 EDT

Hopes of finding life on Mars suffered a setback after new findings from NASA’s Curiosity rover detected only trace amounts of methane gas in the Red Planet’s atmosphere, a study said Thursday.

In the past decade, scientists have reported large “plumes” of methane in the Martian atmosphere, findings that have remained controversial because they were made on the basis of observations from Earth or an orbiting satellite.

Researchers said in March 2003 that they had found a cloud near the Martian equator containing some 19,000 tons of methane.

However, analysis of data from Curiosity’s onboard instruments shows only trace amounts of methane in Mars’s atmosphere.

Scientists said Curiosity’s findings indicated that the maximum level of methane was 1.3 parts per billion by volume — about six times lower than previous estimates.

The low atmospheric methane level greatly reduces chances that Martian soil contains living microbes or organic fossil materials that would produce the gas, scientists said.

The findings also reduce the likelihood of significant levels of methane being produced geologically or from meteorites, according to California Institute of Technology researcher Christopher Webster, co-author of the study published in the journal Science.

Previously identified methane plumes may have been the result of misinterpretations of observations, including those made from Earth-based telescopes, according to the researchers.

Curiosity, which touched down on the Martian equator in August 2012, has already established that Mars may have been hospitable to microbial life in the distant past.

In recent weeks, the robot has begun trundling on a five-mile (eight-kilometer) journey toward Mount Sharp, the two-year mission’s main target for exploration.

The journey is expected to take several months, with Curiosity stopping along the way to analyze geological formations.

The foot of Mount Sharp is of particular interest because sedimentary layers may reveal when Mars was suitable for life, according to NASA.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #8857 on: Sep 20, 2013, 07:36 AM »

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains how gravity affects the flow of time

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Thursday, September 19, 2013 10:10 EDT

On Wednesday’s edition of his popular “Star Talk” radio show, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how gravity affects the flow of time and how time passes on different planets with different gravitational fields.

A listener wrote in to “Star Talk” to ask if it’s the same time everywhere in the universe. Space flights and the International Space Station are all on Houston time because “that’s who they talk to,” but, the reader asked, does time move at the same rate everywhere?

“Different parts of the universe are moving at different rates,” deGrasse Tyson said, “and time has some relative aspects to it. For example, the GPS satellites, the clocks on them tick at a different rate than clocks on Earth’s surface because when you move far away from the source of gravity, your time speeds up.”

“So,” he continued, “the clocks on the GPS satellites are not ticking at the rate of the clocks that they are informing down here on Earth. The military puts a correction into the clock time of a GPS satellite so that it matches the time we need it to have here on the Earth’s surface.

Therefore, depending on where you are in relation to a gravitational force, your clock is ticking slightly differently than those located closer to the source.

Co-host Eugene Mirman then asked, “Okay, so what time is it on Jupiter?”

An interesting way to answer that question, said deGrasse Tyson, would be to place a clock on Earth and the other on Jupiter and take note of how fast they tick.

“The clock on Jupiter,” said deGrasse Tyson, “will tick slower because Jupiter’s gravitational field slows down the ticking of the clock.”

The change is so small, however, that if you had a hypothetical 100 years to live, going to Jupiter would only increase your lifespan by about 10 minutes — an addition that seems hardly worth the trip.

Watch the video, embedded below via Star Talk Radio:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRw6ox3dGcA


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« Reply #8858 on: Sep 20, 2013, 08:00 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America..

September 19, 2013

Conservatives Take Turns Standing Up to the Speaker

By ASHLEY PARKER and JONATHAN WEISMAN
NYT

WASHINGTON — Those in the circle of fiery House conservatives who are spearheading a fiscal showdown that threatens to shut down the government see themselves in vaunted company.

“It only takes one with passion — look at Rosa Parks, Lech Walesa, Martin Luther King,” said Representative Ted Yoho of Florida, one of the rank-and-file House Republicans who have risen up to challenge their party’s leadership over whether to confront the Senate and President Obama with their demands to cut off funding for the president’s health care law. “People with passion that speak up, they’ll have people follow them because they believe the same way, and smart leadership listens to that.”

Along with Mr. Yoho, a rotating cast of characters — often backbench newcomers whom few have heard of outside their districts, and who were elected on a Tea Party wave — has emerged to challenge Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership at every turn.

Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a libertarian-leaning sophomore Republican, led the revolt against the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs, which Mr. Boehner had strongly endorsed. Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, complicated his leadership’s support for the use of force in Syria when he drafted a letter demanding that the president first consult Congress.

And on the current fiscal fight over financing the government, it was Representative Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, who amassed 80 House supporters, enough to force his party’s leadership to tie the money needed to keep the government running after the end of this month to defunding the president’s signature health care law. Representative Thomas Massie, a freshman Republican from Kentucky elected with the help of Ron Paul supporters, had the temerity last week to question his leadership’s initial proposal, calling it a “hocus-pocus” gimmick that would have allowed the Senate to easily strip out the language defunding the president’s health care plan before sending Mr. Obama a clean financing bill.

The House is to vote Friday on the funding plan. In advance of the vote and the clash to come with the Senate, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, a chief advocate of tying government funding to the health law, on Thursday thanked Mr. Graves and House conservatives in general — “for sticking their neck out.”

Maverick Republicans have taken on the leadership on other issues as well. In January, Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, helped lead a failed attempt to remove Mr. Boehner as speaker, and Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, became an outspoken critic of any attempt to overhaul immigration laws — a priority for Mr. Boehner. Even the farm bill, with decades of bipartisan camaraderie behind it, fell to an emboldened Tea Party wing, this time led by Representative Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican who demanded that the broad agriculture measure be stripped of its food-stamp provision, which has been part of the law since 1973.

“In the multitude of counselors, there is wisdom,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a freshman Republican from North Carolina.

This unruly and highly vocal group of conservative legislators has been empowered in the escalating fight by the fact that Republicans hold only a narrow majority in the House; depending on the issue, this core conservative wing can either be persuaded to vote with their party, or they can muster up enough of a coalition to block any legislation with which they do not fully agree.

The decision by the House leadership to mollify the most conservative members of its conference on the latest fiscal fight has created both tension between Tea Party members in the House and the Senate, and underscored the challenges Mr. Boehner faces this year from his party’s more conservative and libertarian wing.

“We’ve got a diverse caucus, frankly,” Mr. Boehner said, when asked at a news conference Thursday who, exactly, was running his conference. “Republicans, by their very nature, are a bit more independent than our colleagues across the aisle.”

Mr. Boehner added: “And so whenever we’re trying to put together a plan, you know, we’ve got 233 members, all of whom have their own plan. It’s tough to get them on the same track.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, did not mince words Thursday in calling the group a bunch of “legislative arsonists” who had “hijacked” the Republican Party.

The ascendance of the Republicans’ Tea Party wing has in no way been smooth, nor is it guaranteed to last. Republicans in swing districts recognize that their party’s lurch to the right jeopardizes their own political futures — and the power of the party nationally.

“There’s no question that the biggest challenge to the Republican Party is dealing with our far right wing,” said Representative Michael G. Grimm, Republican of New York, a perennial target of the Democrats.

Senior Republicans say the Tea Party wing may have sown seeds of decline this week when Mr. Cruz, one of its brightest stars, released a statement Wednesday saying that Senate Democrats would almost certainly succeed in stripping language from the stopgap spending measure defunding the Affordable Care Act. “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground and continue to listen to the American people,” wrote Mr. Cruz, who almost single-handedly started the push to tie further government financing to gutting the health care law.

Mr. Cruz’s statement swept through Republican ranks like a wrecking ball. Representative Tim Griffin of Arkansas took to Twitter to declare that his Republican counterparts in the Senate were “good at getting Facebook likes, and town halls, not much else. Do something.”

Representative Sean P. Duffy, Republican of Wisconsin, said on Twitter that after the House had agreed to send the stopgap measure to the Senate, Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah and Mr. Cruz’s partner in the drive to “Defund Obamacare,” refused to fight for the cause they had championed. “Wave white flag and surrender,” Mr. Duffy wrote.

“When push came to shove, he turned out to be a real coward,” Mr. Grimm said of Mr. Cruz.

That anger could prove to be a moment of self-reflection, senior House Republicans said, about who is leading the Tea Party wing and where. On Thursday, Mr. Boehner seemed eager to relinquish responsibility for the fight, at least briefly, telling reporters that after the House votes on Friday, “This fight will move over to the Senate, where it belongs.”

Mr. Cruz, in the wake of sniping by members of his own party, doubled down on his promises to fight for the bill in the Senate. “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare,” he said, while acknowledging that, if Republicans prove victorious, “it is going to be because House Republicans have stood up and showed the courage that they are showing right now, and that they continue to stand up.”

**************

September 19, 2013

House Republicans Pass Deep Cuts in Food Stamps

By RON NIXON
NYT

WASHINGTON — House Republicans narrowly pushed through a bill on Thursday that slashes billions of dollars from the food stamp program, over the objections of Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama.

The vote set up what promised to be a major clash with the Senate and dashed hopes for passage this year of a new five-year farm bill.

The vote was 217 to 210, largely along party lines.

Republican leaders, under pressure from Tea Party-backed conservatives, said the bill was needed because the food stamp program, which costs nearly $80 billion a year, had grown out of control. They said the program had expanded even as jobless rates had declined with the easing recession.

“This bill eliminates loopholes, ensures work requirements, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path,” said Representative Marlin Stutzman, Republican of Indiana, who led efforts to split the food stamps program from the overall farm bill. “In the real world, we measure success by results. It’s time for Washington to measure success by how many families are lifted out of poverty and helped back on their feet, not by how much Washington bureaucrats spend year after year.”

But even with the cuts, the food stamp program would cost more than $700 billion over the next 10 years.

Republicans invoked former President Bill Clinton in their defense of the bill, saying that the changes were in the spirit of those that he signed into law in 1996 that set work requirements for those who receive welfare.

But Democrats, many of whom held up pictures of people they said would lose their benefits, called the cuts draconian and said they would plunge millions into poverty.

“It’s a sad day in the people’s House when the leadership brings to the floor one of the most heartless bills I have ever seen,” said Representative James McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “It’s terrible policy trapped in a terrible process.”

The measure has little chance of advancing in the Senate, and Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called it “a monumental waste of time.”

The bill, written under the direction of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. It would also require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program in order to receive benefits.

It would also limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months. Currently, states can extend food stamp benefits past three months for able-bodied people who are working or preparing for work as part of a job-training program.

“This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation’s welfare programs,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said.

The bill would also restrict people enrolled in other social welfare programs from automatically becoming eligible for food stamps.

In addition, the legislation would allow states to require food stamp recipients to be tested for drugs and to stop lottery winners from getting benefits. The Senate farm bill also contains a restriction on lottery winners.

Critics of the measure said the cuts would fall disproportionately on children.

“Yes, the federal government has budget problems, but children didn’t cause them, and cutting anti-hunger investments is the wrong way to solve them,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children, a child advocacy group.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill starting next year. The budget office said after that, about three million a year would be cut off from the program.

The budget office said that, left unchanged, the number of food stamp recipients would decline by about 14 million people — or 30 percent — over the next 10 years as the economy improves. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. The census data also showed nearly 47 million people living in poverty — close to the highest level in two decades.

Historically, the food stamp program has been part of the farm bill, a huge piece of legislation that had routinely been passed every five years, authorizing financing for the nation’s farm and nutrition programs. But in July, House leaders split the bill’s farm and nutrition sections into separate measures, passing the farm legislation over Democrats’ objections.

The move came after the House rejected a proposed farm bill that would have cut $20 billion from the food stamp program. Conservative lawmakers helped kill the bill, saying the program needed deeper cuts.

***************

September 19, 2013

Administration Presses Ahead With Limits on Emissions From Power Plants

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — A year after a plan by President Obama to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants set off angry opposition, the administration will announce on Friday that it is not backing down from a confrontation with the coal industry and will press ahead with enacting the first federal carbon limits on the nation’s power companies.

The proposed regulations, to be announced at the National Press Club by Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, are an aggressive move by Mr. Obama to bypass Congress on climate change with executive actions he promised in his inaugural address this year. The regulations are certain to be denounced by House Republicans and the industry as part of what they call the president’s “war on coal.”

In her speech, Ms. McCarthy will unveil the agency’s proposal to limit new gas-fired power plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour and new coal plants to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to administration officials who were briefed on the agency’s plans. Industry officials say the average advanced coal plant currently emits about 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour.

“New power plants, both natural gas and coal-fired, can minimize their carbon emissions by taking advantage of modern technologies,” Ms. McCarthy will say Friday, according to her prepared remarks. “Simply put, these standards represent the cleanest standards we’ve put forth for new natural gas plants and new coal plants.”

Aides said Ms. McCarthy would also announce a yearlong schedule for an environmental listening tour — a series of meetings across the country with the public, the industry and environmental groups as the agency works to establish emissions limits on existing power plants — a far more costly and controversial step. Mr. Obama has told officials he wants to see greenhouse gas limits on both existing and new power plants by the time he leaves office in 2017.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said in January. But he acknowledged that “the path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.”

The limits to be unveiled Friday are a slightly more relaxed standard for coal plants than the administration first proposed in April 2012. Officials said the new plan, which came after the E.P.A. received more than 2.5 million comments from the public and industry, will give coal plant operators more flexibility to meet the limits over several years.

Still, environmental groups are likely to hail the announcement as an important step in targeting the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Forty percent of all energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases in 2012 came from power plants, and most of that came from coal-burning power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“We are thrilled that the E.P.A. is taking this major step forward in implementing President Obama’s climate action plan,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters, in anticipation of Ms. McCarthy’s announcement. “It’s a great day for public heath and a clean energy future.”

But Republican lawmakers and industry officials have already attacked the expected proposal. Opponents of the new rules argue that the technology to affordably reduce carbon emissions at power plants is not yet available and will drastically increase the cost of electricity.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader and a fierce advocate for coal in a coal-dependent state, said in an interview Thursday that he expected “the worst.” Although he had not seen the administration’s latest proposal, Mr. McConnell said it was likely to alarm people in his state.

“It’s a devastating blow to our state, and we’re going to fight it in every way we can,” Mr. McConnell said.

Scott Segal, the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents power companies, said the details he had heard about the rules suggested that the administration would drive investment away from a plentiful source of power.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be illegal, counterproductive from an environmental perspective and contrary to our long-range interest in creating jobs, holding down costs and producing reliable energy,” Mr. Segal said.

The rules on new power plants will soon face a 60-day public comment period, likely to be followed by intensive industry and environmental lobbying and possible court challenges. Officials said the rules could be finalized by the fall of 2014.

Once the rules are in place, coal power plants would be required to limit their emissions, likely by installing technology called “carbon capture and sequestration,” which scrubs carbon dioxide from their emissions before they reach the plant smokestacks. The technology then pumps it into permanent storage underground.

Industry representatives argue that such technology has not been proven on a large scale and would be extraordinarily expensive — and therefore in violation of provisions in the Clean Air Act that require the regulations to be adequately demonstrated and not exorbitant in cost.

“I think the agency has real problems” meeting both of those standards, Mr. Segal said.

But E.P.A. officials argue that the carbon capture technology has been used in several locations and that a review of the industry over the past year proves that owners of new coal-fired power plants can meet the new standards as required by the act.

Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement that the proposed rules would begin a new era in which the United States began real efforts to control “climate-altering pollution” from the nation’s power plants.

“These rules are reasonable,” Mr. Markey said. “They are feasible. And they should soon be expanded to include standards for existing power plants.”

In one concession to the industry, officials said the agency would provide some flexibility. Plants that could install the technology within 12 months would be required to meet the 1,100-pound limit, officials said. Owners of coal plants would also have the option of phasing in the limits over a seven-year period, officials said. But those plants would be required to meet a stricter standard of 1,000 to 1,050 pounds per megawatt hours, averaged over the seven years.

*****************

September 19, 2013

U.S. Textile Plants Return, With Floors Largely Empty of People

By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
NYT

GAFFNEY, S.C. — The old textile mills here are mostly gone now. Gaffney Manufacturing, National Textiles, Cherokee — clangorous, dusty, productive engines of the Carolinas fabric trade — fell one by one to the forces of globalization.

Just as the Carolinas benefited when manufacturing migrated first from the Cottonopolises of England to the mill towns of New England and then to here, where labor was even cheaper, they suffered in the 1990s when the textile industry mostly left the United States.

It headed to China, India, Mexico — wherever people would spool, spin and sew for a few dollars or less a day. Which is why what is happening at the old Wellstone spinning plant is so remarkable.

Drive out to the interstate, with the big peach-shaped water tower just down the highway, and you’ll find the mill up and running again. Parkdale Mills, the country’s largest buyer of raw cotton, reopened it in 2010.

Bayard Winthrop, the founder of the sweatshirt and clothing company American Giant, was at the mill one morning earlier this year to meet with his Parkdale sales representative. Just last year, Mr. Winthrop was buying fabric from a factory in India. Now, he says, it is cheaper to shop in the United States. Mr. Winthrop uses Parkdale yarn from one of its 25 American factories, and has that yarn spun into fabric about four miles from Parkdale’s Gaffney plant, at Carolina Cotton Works.

Mr. Winthrop says American manufacturing has several advantages over outsourcing. Transportation costs are a fraction of what they are overseas. Turnaround time is quicker. Most striking, labor costs — the reason all these companies fled in the first place — aren’t that much higher than overseas because the factories that survived the outsourcing wave have largely turned to automation and are employing far fewer workers.

And while Mr. Winthrop did not run into such problems, monitoring worker safety in places like Bangladesh, where hundreds of textile workers have died in recent years in fires and other disasters, has become a huge challenge in terms of monitoring workers’ safety. “When I framed the business, I wasn’t saying, ‘From the cotton in the ground to the finished product, this is going to be all American-made,’ ” he said. “It wasn’t some patriotic quest.”

Instead, he said, the road to Gaffney was all about protecting his bottom line.

That simple, if counterintuitive, example is changing both Gaffney and the American textile and apparel industries.

In 2012, textile and apparel exports were $22.7 billion, up 37 percent from just three years earlier. While the size of operations remain behind those of overseas powers like China, the fact that these industries are thriving again after almost being left for dead is indicative of a broader reassessment by American companies about manufacturing in the United States.

In 2012, the M.I.T. Forum for Supply Chain Innovation and the publication Supply Chain Digest conducted a joint survey of 340 of their members. The survey found that one-third of American companies with manufacturing overseas said they were considering moving some production to the United States, and about 15 percent of the respondents said they had already decided to do so.

“This is a completely different manufacturing paradigm than what we saw 10 years ago,” said David Simchi-Levi, a professor at M.I.T. who conducted the survey.

Beyond the cost and time benefits, companies often get a boost with consumers by promoting American-made products, according to a survey conducted in January by The New York Times.

The survey found that 68 percent of respondents preferred products made in the United States, even if they cost more, and 63 percent believed they were of higher quality. Retailers from Walmart to Abercrombie & Fitch are starting to respond to those sentiments, creating sections for American-made items and sourcing goods domestically.

But as manufacturers find that American-made products are not only appealing but affordable, they are also finding the business landscape has changed. Two decades of overseas production has decimated factories here. Between 2000 and 2011, on average, 17 manufacturers closed up shop every day across the country, according to research from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Now, companies that want to make things here often have trouble finding qualified workers for specialized jobs and American-made components for their products. And politicians’ promises that American manufacturing means an abundance of new jobs is complicated — yes, it means jobs, but on nowhere near the scale there was before, because machines have replaced humans at almost every point in the production process.

Take Parkdale: The mill here produces 2.5 million pounds of yarn a week with about 140 workers. In 1980, that production level would have required more than 2,000 people.

Curse of Long Distance

When Bayard Winthrop founded American Giant, he knew precisely what he wanted to make: thick sweatshirts like the one from the Navy that his father used to wear.

They required a dry “hand feel,” so the fabric would not seem greasy to the touch, and a soft, heavily plucked underside. Mr. Winthrop had already produced sportswear overseas, so he looked there for the advanced techniques and affordable pricing he needed.

He wanted to sell his hooded sweatshirt for around $80, between the $10 Walmart version, made in China, and the $125 Polo Ralph Lauren version, made in Peru. He was insistent on cutting and sewing the sweatshirts in the United States — a company called American Giant couldn’t do that part overseas, he felt — but wasn’t picky about where the fabric came from.

With the help of a consultant, he settled on a mill in Haryana, India, that could make the desired fabric. After several months of back-and-forth, Mr. Winthrop was ready to ship his first sweatshirts in February 2012.

But he was frustrated with the quality, and the lengthy process. By October of last year, Mr. Winthrop had moved production to South Carolina. Now it takes just a month or so, start to finish, to get a sweatshirt to a customer.

“We just avoid so many big and small stumbles that invariably happen when you try to do things from far away,” he said. “We would never be where we are today if we were overseas. Nowhere close.”

The problems in India were cultural, bureaucratic and practical.

Time was foremost among them. The Indian mill needed too much time — three to five months — to perfect its designs, send samples, schedule production, ship the fabric to the United States and get it through customs. Mr. Winthrop was hesitant to predict demand that far in advance.

There were also communication issues. Mr. Winthrop would send the Indian factory so-called tech packs that detailed exactly what kind of fabric he wanted and what variations he would allow. But even with photos and drawings, the roll-to-roll variance was big. And he couldn’t afford to fly to India regularly, or hire someone to monitor production there.

He also found that suppliers deferred to his wishes, rather than being frank about some of his choices, which weren’t, he conceded, always good ones.

“I’m a supporter of outsourcing when it makes sense,” he said. But it had stopped making sense.

Now that production has shifted to the United States, Mr. Winthrop says those problems have disappeared. Mr. Winthrop and his team visit Carolina Cotton Works and Parkdale whenever they want, check on quality and toss ideas around with the managers. And, he says, the cost is less than in India.

Where Mr. Winthrop relies on labor — the cutting and sewing of the sweatshirts, which he does in five factories in California and North Carolina — is where the costs jump up. That costs his company around $17 for a given sweatshirt; overseas, he says, it would cost $5.50.

But truth be told, labor is not a big ingredient in the manufacturing uptick in the United States, textiles or otherwise. Indeed, the absence of high-paid American workers in the new factories has made the revival possible.

“Most of our costs are power-related,” said Dan Nation, a senior Parkdale executive.

March of the Machines

Step inside Parkdale Mills, and prepare to be overwhelmed by machines.

The ceilings are high and the machines stretch city block after city block — this one tossing around bits of cotton to clean them, that one taking four-millimeter layers from different bales to blend them.

Only infrequently does a person interrupt the automation, mainly because certain tasks are still cheaper if performed by hand — like moving half-finished yarn between machines on forklifts. Beyond that, there is little that resembles the mills of just a few decades ago.

Tell people about a textile plant and “their image is ‘Norma Rae,’ and everyone’s sick and dirty and coughing and it’s terrible,” said Mike Hubbard, vice president of the National Council of Textile Organizations.

Not here. The air-cleaning room, where air is washed 6.5 times an hour to get contaminants out, could be a modern-art installation, with liquid raining into pools of water. Along the ceiling, moving racks like those at a dry cleaner snake throughout the factory, carrying the finished yarn to a machine for packaging and shipping. That machine has enough lights and outlets on it that it resembles a music studio soundboard.

For Parkdale, the new technology has been its salvation.

Founded in 1916, Parkdale is the largest buyer of raw cotton in the United States. In the 1960s, when its current chairman, Duke Kimbrell, took over, it was a single plant with a couple of hundred workers.

Seeing that other plants in the area were streamlining their businesses and ceasing to make their own yarn, Parkdale supplied yarn to nearby manufacturers like Hanesbrands. Business flourished, and Parkdale acquired competitors and soared until the 1990s.

That’s when its clients started fleeing the United States.

The North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 was the first blow, erasing import duties on much of the apparel produced in Mexico. The Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, when currencies collapsed, added a 30 to 40 percent discount to already cheaper overseas products, textile executives said. China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and quickly became an apparel powerhouse, and as of 2005, the W.T.O. eliminated textile quotas.

In 1991, American-made apparel accounted for 56.2 percent of all the clothing bought domestically, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. By 2012, it accounted for 2.5 percent. Over all, the American manufacturing sector lost 32 percent of its jobs, 5.8 million of them, between 1990 and 2012, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The textile and apparel subsectors were hit even harder, losing 76.5 percent of their jobs, or 1.2 million.

“With all the challenges that we’ve had with cheap imports, we knew in order to survive we’d have to take technology as far as we could,” said Anderson Warlick, Parkdale’s chief executive.

The company began meeting with machine manufacturers, doing trial runs of equipment and offering feedback and debugging, so it got dibs on the newest technology. It looked for business opportunities in the countries where its customers were heading, those in Central America in particular, and now 75 percent of its business is in exports.

Over all, the company employs 4,000 people, its biggest work force ever, but it is technology that has made it competitive.

“We’ve been able to be effective here because we invested in our manufacturing to the point that labor is not as big of an issue as far as total cost as it once was,” Mr. Warlick said. “It’s allowed us to be able to compete more effectively with foreign countries that pay, you know, a fraction of what we pay in wages. We compete with them on technology and productivity.”

Back From the Dead

All that automation has made working in the mill — which once meant mostly dead-end jobs for people with no other options — desirable for many people.

Howard Taggert, 86, got his first mill job in 1948 after high school. “By being a color, yeah, you’ve got the worst jobs there was in textile,” said Mr. Taggert, who is African-American. “It was rough, but it was a living. We made a living.”

He started by opening cotton bales, which involved striking an ax onto a metal tie around the bales — a dangerous job, given that a spark from metal striking metal could ignite a room full of cotton. The dust was so thick that he couldn’t see to the next aisle, he said. He was paid 87 cents an hour.

“I had to. I didn’t have no other choice,” he said of working in the mills.

The work was so bad that Mr. Taggert refused to let his children go into mill work. He might be surprised to hear about Donna McKoy, who went back to work in a mill even after earning an associate degree in criminal justice.

Ms. McKoy, 47, lost her job at Continental Fabrics in North Carolina in the early 2000s, “when everything was downsizing and going over to China.” In 2001 alone, textile plants in the Carolinas eliminated 15,000 jobs. The sense of desperation was palpable, Ms. McKoy said.

“Now what?” she remembers asking herself before she decided to go to college.

After a headhunter contacted her in 2007, she became a supervisor at Parkdale, overseeing a night shift of 11 workers. The work — and the workplace — are barely recognizable compared with her job a decade ago. A couple of things struck her right away. First, the mill was clean. “Most open-end spinning plants that have the older model spinning frames in them are really dirty and dusty and not fun to be around,” she said. Thanks to the new technology, “my plant is always clean.”

Second, Ms. McKoy got training. For her first eight months, Parkdale paid for hotels, food, dry-cleaning and gas for trips home as she rotated around different factories and learned all of the jobs. And there were fewer people. Ms. McKoy now works at a plant in Walnut Cove, N.C., which she described as a smaller version of the Gaffney plant. On a typical 12-hour shift, Ms. McKoy said, two of the 11 people on her team fix the spinning machines about 4,000 times, with robots’ help.

She earns $47,000 a year and says the perks are good, like health care, an in-house nurse and monthly management classes for supervisors. She recently bought a three-bedroom house and owns a car.

“I have a comfortable life,” she said. “With this recession that we just had, I didn’t feel it.”

Still, some Parkdale employees worry about the future. They’ve seen too much hardship in the textile industry to be overly hopeful about a real turnaround.

Scott Symmonds, 40, of Galax, Va., works as a technician for two plants in the area. He never planned on manufacturing work, but after time in the National Guard in Iraq, his home went into foreclosure and he had trouble getting work because of his low credit score and lack of a college degree. As a teenager in rural Iowa, he knew people who worked in manufacturing and watched two plants go out of business.

“I saw how they would come home dirty, smelly and often injured,” he said. “I didn’t want that.”

But he needed a job, and Parkdale was hiring. Mr. Symmonds started as a spinner, then got a job on the packing line, and then snagged a technician’s job after a technical-aptitude test. He earns $15 an hour, which he says is better than what competitors pay. He fears, though, that his higher pay could become a liability.

“We are making far more money than our counterparts in China or other nations,” he said. “We can’t afford to take a big enough cut in pay to be on an even level with those places.”

**************

Halliburton pleads guilty to destroying evidence in Gulf spill

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 19, 2013 14:28 EDT

Halliburton pleaded guilty Thursday to destroying evidence relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Justice Department said.

Halliburton was sentenced to the maximum fine allowed, the department said in a statement.

The court statement did not disclose the amount, but Halliburton put it at $200,000 and three years’ probation.

The Justice Department also announced it had filed a criminal charge against a former Halliburton manager, Anthony Badalementi, accusing him of one count of destruction of evidence.

“These announcements mark the latest steps forward in the Justice Department’s efforts to achieve justice on behalf of all those affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion, oil spill, and environmental disaster,” said US Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement.

Halliburton constructed the cement casing of the offshore deepwater Macondo well that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people.

The blast sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, sending millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the largest offshore oil leak in US history.

It took 87 days to cap the runaway well in a spill that blackened beaches in five states and crippled the region’s tourism and fishing industries.

Badalamenti, then Halliburton’s cementing technology director, ordered two internal computer simulations of the cementing job after the accident. The simulations were later destroyed.

Halliburton said the federal judge’s acceptance of its single misdemeanor guilty plea closed the investigation.

****************

The Republican Party Collapses as John McCain Attacks Obamacare Defunders as Irrational

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 19th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

The Republican Party is in full meltdown mode as John McCain has called Ted Cruz and all of the members of his own party who are trying to shutdown the government to defund Obamacare irrational.

McCain responded to Cruz’ I think Sen. Cruz is free to do whatever he wants to within the rules of the Senate. I will state again unequivocally that this is not something we can succeed in, that’s defunding Obamacare, because we don’t have 67 Republican votes in the Senate, which would be required to override the presidential veto.” McCain said that the people who are doing this are new, and they don’t have the experience that older Republicans had when Newt Gingrich shutdown the government.

McCain said he could not second guess why Boehner is going forward with this, but that it was obvious that he has problems within his caucus. McCain made it absolutely clear that there was zero chance an effort to defund Obamacare will not pass, “I can tell you in the United States Senate. We will not repeal or defund Obamacare. We will not, and to think we can is irrational.”

When John McCain is the voice of rational reason in the room, Republicans have a lot of problems. This is the same John McCain who still defends invading Iraq, but even he sees that there is zero chance of any bill that defunds Obamacare passing the Senate. Even if the bill did pass, Republicans don’t have enough votes to override the certain presidential veto. It is just not going to happen.

The Republicans who are pushing defunding are doing so for their own benefit. Ted Cruz knows that defunding Obamacare will never pass the Senate, but he sees a chance to boost his possible 2016 presidential campaign by threatening a filibuster. (This would also allow him to match Rand Paul’s filibuster, and even in the score in the hearts of Republican primary voters.) McCain’s right. If Republicans shutdown the government over the ACA, they may end up losing the House.

The bigger problem is that the Obamacare jihad that the far right of the GOP is on is tearing the party apart. Older and more experienced Republicans are lining up against their inexperienced colleagues in a battle to prevent the ideologues from destroying the party. The conventional wisdom was that the Republicans can at least agree on getting rid of Obamacare, but that’s not true. Republicans can’t agree on anything.

What Republicans are doing is not irrational, it’s downright stupid. The Republican Party is getting to close to a full on collapse, and Democrats are more than happy to cheer them on.

*************

Republicans Call Ted Cruz Ball Less For Bailing On His Own Plan to to Defund Obamacare

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 19th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

ted cruzRepublicans are outraged today after Sen. Ted Cruz withdrew his support for his own plan to shutdown the government unless Obamacare is defunded. One Republican said Wendy Davis has more balls than Cruz.

Cruz spent the entire summer paired up with former senator and current head of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint pushing this plan to tie funding the government to defunding Obamacare. They ran negative ads against Senate Republicans around the country urging them to get behind the defund Obamacare movement. They pressured House Republicans, and Cruz’s campaign worked. At least 40 House Republicans refused to fund the government unless Obamacare was defunded. Boehner caved, and the House will vote on and pass what Cruz wanted tomorrow.

After Speaker Boehner announced that the House will be voting on a continuing resolution that will defund Obamacare, Sen. Cruz put out a statement where he refused to fight for his own plan, “Today’s announcement that the House will vote to defund Obamacare is terrific news. Just a few weeks ago, this was deemed impossible. We commend House leadership and House Republicans for listening to the people and for taking decisive action to stop Obamacare, the biggest job-killer in America. Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so. At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people. President Obama has already granted Obamacare exemptions to big corporations and Members of Congress; he should not threaten to shut down the government just to deny those same exemptions to hard-working American families.”

Cruz is now telling House Republicans that the Senate isn’t going to do anything, so the House needs to stand firm and listen to the American people. In other words, Cruz isn’t going to fight for his own plan in the Senate. House Republicans are on their own.

Sen. Cruz stabbed them in the back, and Republicans aren’t pleased.

One anonymous Republican legislative aide told CNN, “It is disappointing to see that Wendy Davis has more balls than Ted Cruz.” Another senior House Republican leadership aide said, “They said nothing is impossible if you fight hard enough, and the minute the House announces the vote, they give up the fight? It’s crazy. They should walk the walk.”

It seems that the Republican Party is finally catching on to the truth about Ted Cruz. Sen. Cruz is a coward who is only interested in his own self-promotion. He doesn’t care about anything other than getting Ted Cruz elected president someday.

Cruz isn’t the only Senate Republican to set up their House colleagues on Obamacare. Sen. Rand Paul spent the entire summer doing his own Chicken Little dance where he claimed that the Senate couldn’t pass anything, so the House had to do his dirty work for him on Obamacare. Paul never went as far as Cruz did, and now Canadian Joe McCarthy is facing a giant backlash within his own party.

House Republicans believed Ted Cruz, and now he has set them up for a disastrous failure. It really couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of people.

************

Looking Like A Hostage Reading a Ransom Note, Boehner Knows He Has Lost on Obamacare

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 19th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Looking like a hostage reading the demands of his captors, Speaker John Boehner promised to win the already lost fight to defund Obamacare at his weekly press conference today.

In his prepared remarks, Speaker Boehner said, “Tomorrow we’ll pass a plan to protect the American people from the president’s health care law, while keeping the rest of government up and running. When it comes to the health care law, the debate in the House has been settled. I think our position is very clear: The law is a train wreck, and it’s going to raise costs, it’s destroying American jobs – and it must go. We’ll deliver a big victory in the House tomorrow. Then this fight will move over to the Senate – where it belongs. I expect my Senate colleagues to be up for the battle.”

The intrigue occurred when Boehner was asked by a reporter about Senate saying that his latest plan to defund Obamacare won’t work, and Republicans will get blamed for it. The speaker said, “Well guess what? We’re having the fight over here. We’re going to win the fight over here. It’s time for them to pick up the mantle and get the job done.”

Notice what Boehner did there? He sounded tough, but he was really trying to pass the buck and put the blame for the expected failure of his latest ploy on Senate Republicans. Boehner’s words said victory, but his eyes said help me.

It is impossible to watch video of John Boehner and not see a defeated man who doesn’t believe for a second the things he is saying about victory. Boehner knows that this plan that he has been pushed into by Sen. Ted Cruz and former Sen. Jim DeMint’s campaign to tie defunding Obamacare to raising the debt ceiling is never going to work.

Before Boehner even spoke, he knew that the Obama administration had already promised to veto the bill. Boehner may be the Speaker of the House, but he is also a hostage. His promise to win the fight on Obamacare has about as much credibility as a hostage reading propaganda at gun point.

The media will create lots of faux drama surrounding the debt ceiling over the next few weeks, but John Boehner already knows that he has lost.

***************

Obama Promises to Veto the Latest Republican Harebrained Scheme To Defund Obamacare

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 19th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

President Obama and the White House released a statement today telling Boehner and his House Republicans that he will veto their latest attempt to defund Obamacare.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House issued a short and sweet veto promise:

    The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.J. Res. 59, making continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2014 and for other purposes, because it advances a narrow ideological agenda that threatens our economy and the interests of the middle class. The Resolution would defund the Affordable Care Act, denying millions of hard-working middle class families the security of affordable health coverage.

    If the President were presented with H.J. Res. 59, he would veto the bill.The Administration is willing to support a short-term continuing resolution to allow critical Government functions to operate without interruption and looks forward to working with the Congress on appropriations legislation for the remainder of the fiscal year that preserves critical national priorities, protects national security, and makes investments to spur economic growth and job creation for years to come.

With just a few working days left until the country faces a government shutdown, John Boehner is pursuing a strategy that is destined to fail. Despite what some in the Republican Party might believe, President Obama is never, ever going to sign anything that takes a single penny away from the ACA. It is not going to happen, but by caving again to the far right members of his caucus, Boehner is setting the stage for House Republicans to be routed again by Obama.

The President already won the public relations war when he deemed the Republican demands for spending cuts in exchange for paying the government’s bills extortion. The nation has seen the same script play out repeatedly over the last couple of years. It is so predictable that almost everyone knows where this latest Republican debt ceiling temper tantrum is going to end up.

Here are the 10 steps to resolving any Republican caused crisis:

1). House Republicans pass another crackpot idea that will never get through the Senate.

2). The deadline for the Republican caused crisis of the week arrives and passes.

3). House Republicans try to blame Obama.

4). The country doesn’t buy it, and blames Boehner and the House Republicans.

5). A group of Senate Republicans sit down with Harry Reid and the Democrats, and cut a deal.

6). Obama says, “Works for me.”

7). Senate passes the deal. Obama says he will sign it as soon as the House passes it.

Cool. With the economy facing collapse, and right wing billionaires putting on the pressure, Boeher caves and allows a vote on the Senate bill.

9). Nancy Pelosi delivers the majority of the votes needed for passage. Just enough Republicans cross over to get the bill to 218.

10). Obama signs the bill. A crisis is avoided, and House Republicans are left humiliated and enraged.

This is how it has gone every single time that House Republicans have tried this. It is also the likely way that this latest Republican caused debt ceiling fiasco will be resolved. Obama’s veto threat is just a way for the White House to put the House Republicans on notice that they will never get away with this.

House Republicans never learn, which is why President Obama has to be there to tell them no. John Boehner is the Wile E. Coyote of American politics, and he is about to fall off of another cliff.



 


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« Reply #8859 on: Sep 21, 2013, 05:45 AM »


Greece seized by new sense of foreboding as violence flares in streets

Clashes between far-right Golden Dawn and anti-fascists raise fears that crisis has reached new stage

Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 19.51 BST   

It was not the scene that Greece's international stewards envisaged when they last visited the country at the epicentre of Europe's financial mess. When representatives of the "troika" of creditors arrived in June, book-keeping in Athens had been problem-free and monitors described their inspection tour as "almost boring". The great Greek debt crisis, it seemed, had finally gone quiet.

But when mission heads representing the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank fly into Athens on Sunday – for the start of a review upon which the future of Greece will hang – what they will find is a country teetering on the edge: its people divided as never before, its mood brittle, its streets the setting for running battles between anti-fascists and neo-Nazis. And unions girding for battle.

After six years of recession, four years of austerity and the biggest financial rescue programme in global history, it is clear that Greeks have moved into another phase, beyond the fear, fatigue and fury engendered by record levels of poverty and unemployment.

Along with the teargas – fired on Monday for the first time in more than a year outside the administrative reform ministry – there is a new sense of foreboding: a belief that they might never be "saved" and, worse still, could turn against each other.

This week's murder of the hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a member of the far-right Golden Dawn party highlighted that fear.

"It really worries me that political passions have got out of control, that they've surpassed any notion of common sense," said Stamatis Stefanakos, gasping for breath after being teargassed at an anti-fascist rally held in Keratsini, the working-class district where Fyssas was stabbed to death late on Tuesday. "I don't know how it will happen, or when it will happen, or what course it will take but with mathematical precision there will be an explosion here, of that I am sure."

Nervy, bespectacled and intense, Stefanakos is, at 41, typical of the new type of activist Greece's economic crisis has spawned. For the past year the computer scientist has volunteered at food banks and participated in the burgeoning solidarity movement now taking root in local neighbourhoods. He has witnessed, first-hand, the "quiet desperation" of ordinary Greeks pushed to the brink by draconian cuts, escalating taxes and loss of benefits.

"I can't just watch my country being destroyed by these policies," he said. "Forget about taxes. People can't even pay their rents. When you have a society under such pressure anything could happen, even civil war."

Greek officials make no secret of the fact they are investing hope in Germany, the main provider of bailout funds to date. "After the elections there everything will change," said one well-placed insider. "The new government will be able to relax the pressure." But few are persuaded recovery will be that easy.

With joblessness nudging 28%, Greece's largest labour union, GSEE, this month predicted it would take at least 20 years before employment returned to pre-crisis levels. Prime minister Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition hit back, describing the forecast as the "worst possible scenario, designed to predict catastrophe and create a false impression".

But in a country which has seen its economy contract by 25% since 2008 – a decline not experienced by any advanced western economy since the 1929 Wall Street crash – it is the union and not the conservative-dominated government which has been proved more accurate in its predictions.

The death of hope that has come with the failure to rein in Greece's runaway debt – at the start of the crisis it stood at 120% of GDP, now it amounts to 175% – has been compounded by the news that Athens will almost certainly need a third bailout to plug a €11bn (£9.3bn) funding gap over the next two years. Fresh aid is likely to mean more belt-tightening on top of mass lay-offs in the public sector that Athens's troika of creditors has demanded by the end of the year.

"Had these fiscal policies worked, had they resolved some of the country's problems, we might be more understanding," insisted Ermes Kasses, the newly installed head of the civil servants' union, Adedy. "Instead the situation has gone from bad to worse and now the troika want our blood. Well, they are not going to get it because we are going to put up the mother of all battles. We know that our enemy is methodical, hard and cold, that what we face is a test of endurance … but we won't tire, we will go on, we will fight this battle until the government, troika and Europe change these policies."

The union, which brought the entire civil service to a 48-hour standstill this week, will decide what form further industrial action will take over the weekend. Teachers have already announced five-day rolling strikes to protest against job losses.

Fears are mounting that unless Greece is cut some slack it will tip into the sort of left-right strife that kept the country divided, bloody and poor in the 1940s and internationally isolated during the seven years of military rule that preceded the restoration of democracy in 1974.

No party has profited more from the crisis than the vehemently anti-immigrant Golden Dawn whose insignia resembles the swastika and whose leadership openly admire Adolf Hitler. In the three months since international inspectors last visited Athens, support for the extremist group has jumped from 10% to 15% despite its deliberate attempt to escalate political tensions by targeting leftists.

"Greece today is at the door of the madhouse. Democracy is endangered," the columnist Panos Amyra warned in the pages of Eleftheros Typos, whose views often reflect those of the governing centre-right New Democracy party. "If the social tension that has built up is not repulsed it could lead to an uncontrollable situation that will only serve those who have invested in general disorder … [and] the country's tradition of chaos and raw violence."

Samaras acknowledged this week that Greece was experiencing an "extremely critical time".

Pledging he would not allow the "descendents of Nazis to poison society", he appealed to Greeks to remain calm so that they could get on with the business of mending their economy and seeing their "immense sacrifices" pay off.

The electric atmosphere is not likely to make negotiations with the troika – already being described as the toughest yet – any easier. In addition to mass firings, creditors are demanding the government shuts down loss-making defence and mining companies, presses ahead with controversial privatisations and cracks down on tax avoidance.

Overhanging all of this is the fear that social security funds are on the verge of collapse – a prospect that would mean yet more cuts to pensions. "Politically and socially, the crisis is only just beginning. It's going to be a very difficult winter," said the political commentator Giorgos Kyrtsos. "With unemployment at such explosive levels it is clear that pension funds are about to cave in."

Greek politicians liken their position to being at war. Seated behind his ornate wooden desk, under an oil painting of doves flocking around a Greek flag, the health minister Adonis Georgiadis spiritedly conveys the dilemma.

He doesn't want anyone to think that Athens is unwilling to keep its side of the deal. And perhaps to make the point a sign emblazoned with the words Pacta Sunt Servanda (agreements must be kept) also hangs above his head. But there are limits. His own budget, he says, has been cut by 50% – losses that have prompted concerns Greece is now heading for a public health disaster.

"We are ready to enact all the reforms that are needed but there is not one single member of our parliament who would vote for further measures that would destroy our society," he said. "The last three years have been really very difficult, maybe the most difficult our country [has endured] since world war two … now we have to give Greeks hope. Morale is a very big thing in battle." It was imperative that hope was given to the young because with youth unemployment at 65% it was they who were flocking to Golden Dawn, he said.

Four years of relentless cost-cutting has not been without result. Greece has balanced its budget to the point it is now on track to achieving a primary budget surplus once debt repayments are made. That, says Samaras, will allow it to return to markets and relinquish dependence on international aid.

"Politically it's the most sensitive time because we are nearing the end of our huge effort and, like athletes in a marathon, the last two to three kilometres are always the most critical," said Georgiadis.

Greek officials hope that once a new government is installed in Germany, Berlin will also agree to discuss debt forgiveness – widely seen as the only possible way of making Athens' €321bn debt load sustainable.

But much will depend on political stability and that is far from given.

"Greece's exit from the crisis is being made much more politically difficult and socially painful than is needed," said Prof Kevin Featherstone, director of the London School of Economics Hellenic Observatory. "The spread and depth of austerity that lenders have insisted on has been much too severe. There has been success, but success at what price? If this is success, who wants to be rescued like this?"


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« Reply #8860 on: Sep 21, 2013, 05:47 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 09:58 PM

Romania's Powder Keg: Mine Project Launches Protest Movement

By Luke Dale-Harris

The Rosia Montana mine in Romania is currently one of Europe's most controversial projects. Plans by Bucharest to push through approval for the large-scale mining that would eliminate an entire town have sparked mass protests.

In September 1995, a secret agreement was signed inside the Romanian government giving convicted criminal Frank Timis the rights to mine Europe's largest gold deposit, located under the ancient mountain town of Rosia Montana. Soon after, the deposits were floated on the Canadian Stock Exchange, listed under Timis' firm, Gabriel Resources, a newly created mining company registered in the tax haven of Jersey, with no previous mining experience and a bank balance of close to zero.

Now, 18 years later, a near continuous rise in the price of gold has driven the value of the deposits under Rosia Montana up by 400 percent to over $20 billion, and the constant issuing of shares from Gabriel Resources has drawn in nearly a billion dollars to the project.

Restructured and rebranded as the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), the company has launched the biggest PR campaign Romania has ever seen. It also bought up most of the town of Rosia Montana and the four surrounding mountains, all of which would have to be flattened to make way for the open-cast mine, funded multiple NGO's, museums and a high-profile documentary to support their cause.

Yet the mine remains unopened. The company is unable to get past public opposition that has mobilized tens of thousands across the country, and a legal system that deems the project unlawful on three counts -- under environmental law, international mining laws and the Aarhus convention for transparency in decision-making.

But all of this is set to be overridden. At the end of August, Prime Minister Victor Ponta signed a proposed law that would annul all of the legal barriers standing in the way of the Rosia Montana project and get the mine underway by the beginning of next year. The law, currently waiting on a parliamentary vote, would give the company extraordinary powers. The hundred or so villagers who have refused to sell their homes in Rosia Montana would be forcefully expropriated, escorted by RMGC's private security firm and compensated at a rate set by the company. The government would then be mandated to issue all necessary permits for construction and exploitation on set terms drawn up by the company, allowing the project to begin well before the new law could be challenged in the European Court of Justice. Once passed, the law would also apply to all new mining projects in the country -- which sparks fears that, given the mineral richness of the Transylvania region, extend far beyond Rosia Montana.

A Protest Movement Is Born

Three days after the law was proposed, thousands of people took to the streets in opposition. In the weeks since, the protests have grown and spread, with each successive Sunday bringing activists to the streets of cities increasingly far removed from the hills of Transylvania. The demonstrations are held in cities as far flung as Budapest, Berlin, London, Washington, Singapore. This weekend, protests are set to be larger still and, the organizers believe, they will keep growing "until something gives and our demands are recognized."

The scale of the protests reflects the size of the environmental risks involved. Using outdated techniques, 13,000 tons of cyanide are to be be pumped into the mine each year. This is over 130 times the amount used in the Romanian Baie Mare gold mine at the time of the catastrophic cyanide spill in 2000, Europe's worst environmental catastrophe since Chernobyl. Nevertheless, the extent of the opposition has surprised everyone, from the protest's organizers to government officials and, crucially, Gabriel Resources' shareholders, who have been selling off in droves, causing the company's stock price to crash.

But the significance of the case extends far beyond Rosia Montana. Ramona Duminicioiu, a constant figure in the Save Rosia Montana movement for over a decade, sees it as part of a process that links movements as diverse as the Occupy protests in America to this year's uprisings across Europe, from Bulgaria to Turkey, Greece and other countries. "This is a case of our elected government putting corporate interests over public priorities and then blocking any democratic process of opposition through legal measures," she says. "It resonates far beyond Romania as this is a crisis of global capitalism and impotent governments."

Gabriel Resources Threatens Lawsuit

The actions of the Romanian government over the last fortnight certainly suggest a political powerlessness in the face of the proceedings. After the first protests, President Traian Basescu, always an avid supporter of the mine, came out condemning it on environmental grounds, stating that it should not go ahead given that the majority of Romanians are opposed to it. Soon after, Prime Minister Victor Ponta announced an emergency procedure that would, he claimed, stop the project once and for all.

Then, as Gabriel Resources' shares plummeted, the company threatened to sue. They claim that if members of parliament vote against the project they will "commence litigation for multiple breaches of international investment treaties for up to $4 billion." Ponta's emergency procedure was soon abandoned and a new committee was created that seems to allow the law to bypass both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies and be put directly to vote in parliament. However, with the new committee apparently unburdened by regular transparency regulations and the government unavailable to comment, the situation as it stands is unclear.

Whatever happens, the Romanian government is unlikely to survive the coming months in its present form. Calls for the removal of the Ponta-led Social Liberal Union (USL) coalition, brought into power largely on the back of promises that they would stop the Rosia Montana project, are increasingly dominating the protests in Bucharest. Meanwhile, the coalition is visibly shaky, one minute declaring unity in its approach to the mine and the next publicly threatening to split over the issue.

But the stuttering rhetoric of party politics has always felt more like a comic interlude than the main plot line in the story of Rosia Montana. For over a decade and a half, the Romanian government has swung back and forth on the issue but never been able to make any final decision.

"We still don't know the exact nature of the original contract signed between the government and Gabriel (Resources)," says Duminicioiu, "but as it is clear that the vast majority of Romanians oppose the mine. If the project goes ahead, it must be stronger than democracy."

What happens then? "We keep fighting, until we have a government that can represent its people," she says.


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« Reply #8861 on: Sep 21, 2013, 05:58 AM »


Germany's centre-left SPD scents return to coalition rule

David Cameron be warned: Social Democrat duo vying for power could skew EU plans

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 19.23 BST

Angela Merkel may be the only German politician with true global recognition, but Sunday's vote appears set to project into the limelight a less familiar political duo, whose views and temperaments would shake up Europe and wrongfoot David Cameron.

Once the votes from the election are counted on Sunday night, Merkel may well find herself relying on the centre-left SPD for a governing majority. And the unwritten rules of German coalitions mean that junior coalition partner bigwigs get heavyweight roles – either foreign minister or finance minister.

Step forward Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, two SPD stalwarts with pro-European credentials who could jeopardise Cameron's strategy of renegotiating Britain's relationship with the EU ahead of a referendum. One party insider insists that the Social Democrats would "actively try to block attempts to return EU powers to national governments", as Cameron has proposed. A source at the foreign ministry said: "Any attempt to cherry-pick EU policies to keep or discard would cause friction with the traditional SPD line."

While Merkel has surprised many with her tolerance towards Cameron's "review of competences" between EU and UK, a German government with Social Democrat involvement is likely to take a dim view of "Europe a la carte", especially in regard to social regulations such as the working time directive.

Steinmeier in particular is said to be a committed European with close links to the French Socialists. The Social Democrats' failed candidate in the 2009 election, and foreign minister during the last grand coalition, he will remember German frustration with British intransigence on Europe during the government of Gerhard Schröder, for whom he was chief of staff.

Pressed on the subject, one of his advisers insists that he "has great interest in keeping Britain in the EU", but it is worth remembering comments he made as recently as December 2011: "I fear the decisive step for Great Britain's exit has already been made. If the regular meetings take the form of a Europe of 26 without Britain, then a process of alienation will become inevitable and irreversible."

Also in 2011, Steinmeier spoke out in favour of the creation of a European finance minister: "We have to think bravely to the future. We don't just need better coordination, we also need institutions that can get a grip on this crisis." Recent reports suggest Merkel has lost her appetite for more fiscal integration in Europe – with Steinmeier as finance minister, she may be minded to find it again.

Temperamentally, Steinmeier could hardly be further apart from Gabriel, his main opponent in a post-election race for the ministerial rank. Steinmeier, who donated a kidney to his ill wife in 2010, has a reputation as a bureaucrat who rarely loses his temper but also struggles to raise the spirit of the party faithful. During his first stint as foreign minister, he clashed with Merkel over the arrangements for Barack Obama's first Berlin visit and openly criticised her for an unscheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama, but broadly he is seen as sharing her "consensual" approach to politics.

Gabriel, on the other had, is what Germans call a Bauchmensch, someone who acts on gut instinct. Aged 56 and a former teacher who was once nicknamed "Siggi Pop" in his party, he is a impassioned orator and seasoned campaigner, who worked his way through the SPD's party ranks and was responsible for the leftward lurch in his party's current manifesto. He has openly called for the party to distance itself from its "neoliberal phase" under Schröder. "Instead of changing the political centre, the centre changed us," he said at the recent party conference. The current issue of political monthly Cicero claims he has a long-term plan of breaking the taboo of a majority coalition with the SPD, the Greens and the leftist Die Linke.

It is no surprise that the two men are said to share a mutual loathing of one another. "I haven't joined his fan club yet," Steinmeier said after Gabriel suggested the reintroduction of a wealth tax in 2009, and they are said to have clashed after Gabriel tried to convince colleagues to vote against Merkel's fiscal pact via text message.

Yet it is Gabriel who currently has edged ahead of his rival in most commentators' assessments. Christoph Schwennicke, editor of political monthly Cicero and an SPD expert, believes Gabriel can lay claim to the vice chancellory unless his party gets below 24%. Since the two parties would take turns in picking their ministerial posts, Steinmeier would only be left with a minor role and may decide to stay out of politics altogether.

Gabriel has little experience in the field of finance or foreign policy, but he has spent the last few years expanding his network of global contacts, and is one of the architects of the "Progressive Alliance" of European centre-left parties, a rival organisation to the Socialist International.

According to Matthias Koch of the Hannoversche Allgemeine newspaper, Gabriel believes that "none of the central questions for the citizen of today can be answered within the frame of the nation state".

Either way, observers in No 10 are advised to keep their eye on the SPD side of a grand coalition. The last time the Social Democrats entered a grand coalition, they emerged at the other end with their worst electoral result since the foundation of the federal republic, mainly because the party was seen as getting on with Merkel all too well. In order to avoid a rerun, many want a less cosy kind of coalition arrangement, and will welcome the first good scrap with Merkel's CDU. A showdown with Britain may just be what they are looking for.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 01:50 PM

Democracy's Dropouts: The Quixotic Rise of German Non-Voters

By Nicola Abé, Melanie Amann and Markus Feldenkirchen

With the help of intellectuals and celebrities, not voting has recently become de rigueur in Germany. But declining voter turnout harms democratic legitimacy, bolsters the power of those who prompted discontent and could sway Sunday's election.

The movement's headquarters is located in a small shop front on a side street in the western German city of Cologne. It has bare white walls and contains little more than a few flyers. The banner that hangs over the entrance, though, boldly proclaims a new era: "The sleeping giant is awakening."

The sleeping giant refers to Germany's non-voters, and Werner Peters, the chairman of the Non-Voters' Party, intends to wake them up. Peters has rented the premises until Sunday, Sept. 22, when Germany will hold national elections. He hopes that the giant will be on its feet by then.

Peters is an intellectual. He runs Cologne's Hotel Chelsea, writes books and regularly hosts philosophical salons. It was already 15 years ago that he founded his Non-Voters' Party to highlight the weaknesses of party-based democracy. Throughout all those years, few took notice of him -- and even if they did, it was usually only to cast an amused glance in his direction. But now, at age 72, he has noticed a turnaround in the country. "I can see that my idea has made a decisive breakthrough," he says, adding: "The time has come."

Peters believes that his fellow Germans are finally open to his views. "They have recognized the parties as self-perpetuating machines that don't convey the will of the people, but rather the will of the apparatuses," he says.

Peters was the media's darling this summer. He was a guest on talk shows and interviewed on numerous occasions.

The sleeping giant is awakening. The time has come. The tone is vaguely reminiscent of something a small religious sect would proclaim, yet it concerns a group that could actually turn out to be of colossal importance this Sunday.

It is people like Peters who are stirring up every imaginable aversion to "politics" and "the system" during this election campaign -- and absolving potential non-voters of any sense of guilt should they opt to steer clear of the polling stations on Sunday. Never before in Germany have intellectuals, authors and artists ranted like this about parties and their candidates. On every channel, they are given an opportunity to unfurl their fundamental criticism of the system.

A Record Lack of Democratic Legitimacy

The argument seems to be making headway: Voter turnout has been dropping precipitously in Germany, from over 82 percent in 1998 to only 70.8 percent in 2009. As at the last election, this year the number of non-voters is expected to surpass the number of voters in favor of the most successful party. Manfred Güllner, the head of the Forsa polling institute, warns of a non-voter record. "There is reason to fear that fewer than 70 percent of eligible voters will go to the polls," he says. If the non-voters were included on a conventional TV graphic, they would have the highest bar in the chart. They should actually be touted as the true winners of the election -- if it weren't for the fact that this also represents a defeat for democracy.

Non-voting has concrete consequences. For instance, during the cliffhanger election of 2002, Edmund Stoiber, the conservatives' candidate for chancellor, came up only some 6,000 votes short of winning the strongest faction in parliament. Indeed, non-voters decide on chancellorships and government coalitions just like their active fellow citizens, the voters. But the indirect impact of non-voting is even more damaging because it severely tarnishes the political culture and the appeal of democracy.

If the predictions of opinion pollsters come true, the next German parliament, the Bundestag, will have the weakest democratic legitimacy of all previously elected parliaments. And, as such, its decisions will be even less widely accepted. What kind of nation is this where so many are unwilling to clear even the lowest hurdle for democratic participation and put an "X" next to a candidate's name?

This aversion runs so deep that, according to an opinion poll by Germany's INSA Institute, even if there were compulsory voting in Germany, one out of every two non-voters would not vote or would void their ballots.

This stands in stark contrast to the early years of West Germany. In the wake of the political and moral collapse of the Nazi era, West Germans strove to present themselves -- to the world, but also to themselves -- as model democrats. At the time, voting was a point of honor for the vast majority of them. They wanted to make the most of this second chance after their first tragic experiment with parliamentary democracy during the Weimar Republic.

No Longer Just the Poor and Poorly Educated

Nevertheless, non-voters are not a new phenomenon in Germany. After the initial decades in which Germans eagerly flocked to the polls, voter turnout has gradually declined. Non-voters traditionally consisted primarily of the poor and poorly educated, who had long since bowed out of the political discourse because they blamed "those up there" for their lot in life. The INSA Institute found that 41 percent of all unemployed respondents do not vote. But there are also former regular voters who are deeply disappointed with their old favorite parties and simply can't bring themselves to once again give them their votes. For instance, many former supporters of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have avoided the polls since the introduction of Agenda 2010, a package of labor market and welfare reforms pushed through a decade ago by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD.

Now, a third group has emerged that lends a new dimension to non-voting: The new non-voters are well-educated and often affluent.

It used to be embarrassing for Germans if they were too lazy to go to the polls, had missed the election or hadn't managed to find a party they were willing to support. But the new non-voters have no such qualms.

"There has been a change of mood among the public," says INSA pollster Hermann Binkert. "You no longer have to be ashamed to be a non-voter." Only 7 percent of the non-voters surveyed on behalf of INSA had to deal with criticism from friends and relatives, while 57 percent indicated that friends and family don't care whether they vote or not.

Now, disdain for politics and parties has reached the higher echelons of German society, promulgated and refined by a handful of TV intellectuals, but also by a growing number of less prominent activists.

Too Cool, Too Smart to Vote

It's now possible to run into the new non-voters everywhere: at dental practices, in corner bars, in the Berlin art scene and online. Bundestag President Norbert Lammert speaks of a new type of "arrogant non-voter." These haughty individuals do not receive benefits for the long-term unemployed, and they don't complain that politicians and society have refused to give them a chance to improve their station in life. On the contrary, they come in the guise of philosophers and spend the bulk of their time in TV studios.

German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk recently claimed in all seriousness that he didn't know when election day was. "People used to say that it was politically reasonable to vote for the lesser evil. But what should I do if I no longer know where the lesser evil lies?" asks Sloterdijk, who uses this statement to justify his abstention from voting. His fellow philosopher Richard David Precht says: "I don't personally find it important whether I vote or not." Precht maintains that this is "presumably the most irrelevant election in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany." The message here -- which comes across with an air of intellectual reflectiveness -- can simply be encapsulated as follows: "Everyone's stupid. Except me."

While the lower stratum of society feels abandoned by party-based democracy, Germany's elite are increasingly looking down their noses at them. Politics is too boring, too dumb and too grubby for them. They revel in their loathing of politics and see themselves as a cut above the rest. That might heighten the media appeal of certain individuals, but such models are disastrous for a vibrant democracy.

"I have to shake my head when I hear such things," says Lammert, "because, in my opinion, this is politically and intellectually below the level that the protagonists expressly lay claim to. I find this discrepancy equally astonishing and disappointing."

On Monday, Sept. 2, Precht took part in a panel discussion in Hamburg. The moderator asked him if he intended to vote. Precht took a deep breath and said: "I don't lack the courage to commit myself to a party, but rather the opportunity to identify myself with one." He then added that he wouldn't even be in Germany on Sept. 22, and noted that he personally didn't find it important whether he voted or not anyway.

Is Germany a 'Lethargocracy'?

Precht is one of the many celebrities currently making the rounds of Germany's TV shows and editorial pages in a bid to score points at the expense of democracy. The new non-voters include philosophers, artists, journalists and economists. They have embraced non-voting as a core value of their personal brand and see themselves as a social avant-garde. They are cleverly staging this calculated taboo violation as a rebellion that has taken up the fight against a supposedly degenerate system.

German historian Arnulf Baring -- who years ago encouraged his fellow citizens to "storm the barricades" and rebel against Germany's "fossilized party system" -- has already voted by absentee ballot, but he now appears to regret this. "I have a great deal of sympathy for the non-voters," says Baring, "because I'm aghast at how one-dimensional and evasive political debates are these days, and at how little the parties are doing to motivate voters."

Sloterdijk calls Germany a "lethargocracy," yet his own lethargy as a German citizen doesn't bother him -- in fact, he celebrates it in the media limelight. His professor colleague, economist Max Otte, adds another word to the field to justify his voter abstinence. He sees the state drifting toward a plutocracy, the rule of the rich.

These haughty rebels see themselves as the real defenders of democracy -- or, in any case, as better than the political parties and their pitifully mediocre candidates. The election campaign issues prompt at most a raised eyebrow among these critics. They want to debate the "big issues" -- and they bemoan a lack of vision for the future among today's politicians.

Precht calls it a "kids' stuff election campaign" and complains about the "un-philosophical politics" and the "collective loss of the ability to create utopias." He laments that the parties are becoming increasingly alike, and says all that remains is a single "mega-party" that favors "the environment and Europe, education, families, children and health." Similar arguments are presented by social psychologist Harald Welzer, who published an essay in SPIEGEL last May in which he refused to vote for the "lesser evil" and went on record as a non-voter.

Are the Parties Really All the Same?

The notion that all parties are the same is the top argument presented by non-voters. Admittedly, present-day Germany is able to manage just fine without the great ideological battles of the past, and this is reflected in the parties' political platforms. Still, it would be preferable if the opposition could offer strong alternative concepts on key issues, such as Europe's future and the Energiewende, Germany's push to abandon nuclear energy and promote renewable sources. Of course, it would also be nice if Chancellor Angela Merkel did not so pointedly avoid content-related debates. Democracy thrives on a contest of ideas, and this works best the more these ideas differ from one another, and the clearer the differences between their proponents.

But does the current lack of polarization justify the fact that an increasing number of voters are adopting the role of consumers -- and are morphing into couch-potato voters who would like to be "offered" something by politics instead of actively informing themselves about what the politicians are proposing? It may be true that Angela Merkel wants to put voters asleep. But does that mean that they have to allow themselves to be lulled to sleep?

If Precht, Sloterdijk and their comrades-in-arms just briefly leafed through the various election manifestos, they couldn't miss the differences. They would discover that the SPD and the Green Party are proposing a totally different tax policy than the parties of the ruling coalition -- Merkel's Chrsitian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP). They would also find out that there is a difference between Germany's current statutory health insurance system, which allows individuals to opt for a private health insurance provider, and the proposed "citizens' insurance" (Bürgerversicherung), which would make statutory health insurance compulsory for everyone.

They would also know that the parties have divergent positions on the tax-splitting provision for married couples, adoption rights for same-sex couples and the issue of child care. Furthermore, they would learn that there are very different responses to the question of who should pay for the debts of crisis-ridden countries in Southern European. But all of this is overlooked by the non-voting propagandists. After all, it would demolish the theory that everything is the same anyway.

Essentially a Rejection of Democracy
But democracy is not a delivery service or an entertainment program. A democracy can expect a certain degree of knowledge from its citizens -- a modicum of involvement. Anyone who rejects this also refuses to contribute to its success -- and thus puts its future at risk.

All those who are complaining that the political platforms are not attractive enough, and that the parties are lame and boring, have done nothing to prevent them from becoming lame and boring. They are like stowaways grumbling that the ship isn't sailing fast enough.

They also overlook that, by taking such an attitude, they are placing themselves not only above the political parties and their candidates, but also above those who actually do choose to vote -- and, ultimately, above democracy itself. The refusal to choose the lesser evil is a rejection of everything that is unsightly and imperfect about democracy. It is a refusal to accept its key characteristic, the art of compromise, and indeed ultimately a rejection of this form of government.

When intellectuals like Precht complain that politicians "debate on setting the minimum wage one euro higher or lower," this reflects not only an arrogant disregard for the concerns of low-income earners, but also an ignorance of what democracy is all about. Democracy also involves intricate details that have to be hammered out in lengthy negotiations that often produce mediocre results -- and, particularly in Germany, this political system has been designed as an alternative to the "grand vision" forms of government.

By its very nature, democracy must always remain somewhat mediocre and unglamorous. People who are looking for something that sends them into raptures would be better off going to the opera or a football stadium. An alternative would be Plato's idea of a government of philosopher-kings -- in other words, a cabinet filled with people like Precht. That's arguably something that we really don't need.

The 'What About Me' Voters

These days, it's often forgotten that the opportunity to vote is a basic right that people have struggled for centuries to secure. Viewed in this light, it seems particularly odd that the proportion of non-voters is significantly higher in eastern Germany than it is in western Germany, although millions of people in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) once took to the streets to demand free elections.

Andrea Hanna Hünniger, an author who was born in the communist GDR and now lives in Berlin, recently appeared on a popular German TV talk show and admitted that she has never voted. "Nevertheless, I'm not a victim. I'm young, educated and political," she said. But the 28-year-old complains that her generation has the feeling that it is no longer needed in this society.

Hünniger said that she noticed this when she attempted to participate in a debate on the show with current German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) and living political legend Egon Bahr (SPD), who is credited as the architect of West Germany's Ostpolitik policies aimed at normalizing relations with communist countries in Eastern Europe, launched under SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt some four decades ago. She said afterwards that it was a "shock," adding: "They had absolutely no interest in what I had to say." Hünniger says that this once again confirmed her belief that she is "being taken for a ride," as she says. During the show, she said: "I think politicians are liars." After the broadcast, Hünniger says she received emails from people thanking her for expressing exactly what they feel.

Whereas non-voters from the lower strata of society often lack the educational background to understand the increasing complexity of many political issues, Germany's new non-voters are exploiting their level of education to place themselves above the political system.

"I've never voted because politics has never been able to win me over," admits German actor Moritz Bleibtreu. In a democratic country, he has every right to withhold his vote, he insists, adding that he has never noticed that a change in government has made any difference in his life. "I'm simply not 100 percent won over by any party," he says.

But anyone who expects a 100-percent match has not understood democracy. Such critics are demanding the fit of a tailor-made suit when only off-the-rack clothing can be offered. Each and every voter has to decide for themselves which model fits best.

During the talk show, Hünniger had to admit that she hasn't attended a single election campaign event over the past few weeks. She only has a vague notion of the various party platforms. Given these circumstances, the reasons for her contempt of politics remain superficial.

If You Don't Play, Can You Still Lose?

From a statistical perspective, Germany's Prechts, Sloterdijks and Bleibtreus may have a negligible impact, but their publicly proclaimed position has considerable influence.

"Celebrity and intellectual non-voters are far too thoughtless about the consequences of their actions," according to Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck, a Mannheim-based political scientist who conducts electoral research. "They make non-voting socially acceptable without offering concrete alternatives," he argues.

This attitude is emulated by people all across the country who are forming a range of new groups openly calling on Germans to not go to the polls. For example, there's a shadowy group in the southwestern city of Stuttgart that is decorating election campaign posters with "blah" speech bubbles -- not to mention the German League of Active Non-Voters (BAND), based in the southern state of Bavaria. BAND is headed by a dentist, and its some 100 members are mostly doctors, lawyers and teachers.

BAND President Franz Xaver Berger says it would be irresponsible to vote for "one of those people" because it gives politicians the same old excuse: "After all, you voted for us." Berger and his fellow non-voters believe that they have figured out how the political system works. You have to hit them with their own weapons, not with elections, they say. The real power in the state lies with lobbyists, they contend. Consequently, they want to recruit enough members to allow the organization to finance its own lobbyist in Berlin.

Merely Helping Those One Means to Hurt
Non-voting evidently goes hand in hand with a period in history in which nothing is apparently more cumbersome than obligations and commitments. It matches a generation that is more freewheeling and -- in contrast to its predecessor -- doesn't feel attached to either a particular milieu or political trend.

What's more, there is the sneaking suspicion that key political decisions are no longer made in Berlin, but by bureaucrats in Brussels or directly by speculators on Wall Street. A favorite non-voter adage is that you are more likely to be killed by a speeding car on your way to the polling station than to influence politics by casting your vote. Traditional non-voters used to say: Those at the top do whatever they want anyway. The new non-voters say: Those at the top have no influence anyway.

This lethargy has transformed large segments of the German population into selfish navel-gazers. They would much rather invest their time in projects that promise direct benefits for them and their families: a spruced-up day care center, green traffic islands in the neighborhood or perhaps protests against noise from aircraft flying overhead. Their main concern is their own immediate environment and anything that works to their advantage -- not the common good. And they are certainly not concerned about the current state of democracy.

Over two centuries ago, German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that there are active citizens and wards of the state. According to Kant, active citizens have all their rights, in particular the right to vote. By contrast, he noted, wards of the state don't have this right. According to this logic, those who voluntarily don't vote are making themselves into wards of the state.

Contrary to what they would like us to believe, non-voters are not precipitating any long-awaited changes. Instead, they are merely bolstering the power of those who they complain about. They make the political parties even larger than they actually are. Eligible voters who stay home because they have had enough of Angela Merkel are, in effect, helping her to win a mandate for her third term in office. "It's not as if non-voting had no influence," says Bundestag President Lammert. "It has an influence -- though but usually not the intended one."

Getting Back in the Voting Game

Klaus Fohrmann was also an upper-middle class non-voter. He heads a certified public accountant's office on the edge of Hamburg's trendy Hafencity district. The business has five rooms and four employees. Fohrmann leans back in his leather chair and delivers the usual non-voter rhetoric: "At a certain point, I thought to myself: This is all unbearable. No matter who is governing, it's always the same amateurs and ideologues at work. Expertise plays no role," he says. In the 1970s, Fohrmann briefly felt a close affinity for the Greens, but he was never in a political party.

Like all non-voters, Fohrmann has highly personal reasons for being disillusioned about politics. He was annoyed by the never-ending stream of new tax laws, the violation of professional secrecy when German tax authorities purchased data CDs listing details about tax cheats and, of course, the smoking ban!

Still, Fohrmann studiously ignores everything that politicians have accomplished during the same period of time.

For many years, Fohrmann spent his evenings venting his frustration about politics on Internet forums with fellow disgruntled voters. And he stopped voting in elections. This summer, though, it looks as if he's about to end his long-time voter abstinence and -- bucking the current trend -- return to the realm of the voters. He has recently found a solution that's just right for him: the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

"For me, it was such a relief that I could hardly believe it. Here were competent, disciplined people who finally wanted to change something," he says, referring to Germany's new conservative anti-euro party, which owes a great deal of its popularity to the message that professors and technocrats make better politicians, and that political parties are the root of all evil.

This Sunday, the populist AfD could benefit more than any other party from the anticipated low voter turnout. After all, when fewer people vote, this makes it that much easier for single-issue parties to clear the 5 percent hurdle for securing representation in the Bundestag.

Fohrmann now uses the word "we" when he talks about the AfD. He has joined the party and is handing out flyers in the Hamburg inner-city districts of Eimsbüttel and Barmbek. "I tell you, we're going to make it in (to parliament)," he says.

And, or course, whether he's right or not will also be decided by the non-voters.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 07:27 PM

Tensions High: Last-Minute Poll Shows Close German Race

Merkel's coalition government is leading in the polls by the narrowest of margins.

On the eve of election weekend in Germany, the governing coalition has a narrow lead of just 1 percent, according to a last-minute poll. The upshot? The outcome of the election is anyone's guess.

The tension is rising in Germany as the election campaign draws to a close, with an eleventh-hour poll released on Thursday giving Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and her junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), a lead of just 1 percent over opposition parties.

A 58 percent majority of Germans say they would like to see Merkel remain in the Chancellery, with just 32 percent preferring her center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) challenger Peer Steinbrück. But while support for her party remains at a steady 40 percent, the FDP is down to 5.5 percent, barely clearing the 5 percent hurdle required for representation in parliament, but giving the coalition combined support of 45.5 percent.

According to the "political barometer" poll commissioned by public broadcaster ZDF, the SPD, the Greens and the far-left Left Party are polling at 44.5 percent after support for the SPD rose to 27 percent and for the Left Party to 8.5 percent.

The environmentalist Green Party's popularity, meanwhile, dropped to 9 percent after a turbulent week that saw the party weakened by fresh evidence of its past pro-pedophile sympathies.

If Merkel's current center-right coalition fails to get enough support, it is likely her party will be forced to form a grand coalition with the SPD.

ZDF's website carries a reminder that the poll barometer has a statistical margin of error of 2 percent.

A Failed Campaign

After a dismal showing in the Bavarian state elections last Sunday, the FDP is appealing to voters to use their second vote tactically to make sure they remain over the 5 percent mark, securing a continuation of the governing coalition.

But Horst Seehofer, Bavarian state premier and leader of the CSU, the CDU's Bavarian sister party, told Welt Online that the FDP should give up its second-vote campaign.

"In these final hours ahead of the election, I would advise everyone to focus on their political opponents rather than arguing over vote distribution," he said. "Germany is home to a pool of possible FDP voters that exceeds 5 percent and with the right issues and approach, the FDP should be able to tap this potential."

Break With Tradition

ZDF's publication of the figures three days ahead of the election marked a break with tradition. In the past, Germany's state broadcasters published their last poll results 10 days before the election to avoid influencing voter decisions. The broadcaster justified the move on the grounds that a third of voters only decide who to vote for either on election day or shortly beforehand, and therefore need to be aware of the latest figures.

But the decision was criticized by Norbert Lammert, president of the German parliament, the Bundestag.

"I don't see daily reports on the latest polls as helpful," he told the Rheinische Post on Friday, warning against confusing polls with results.

In a separate development, Roderich Egeler, the Federal Returning Officer, has said that anyone who uses social networking tools to reveal exit poll results before 6 p.m. on Sunday will face fines of up to €50,000.

According to Germany's Federal Elections Act, "the publication of results of surveys conducted among voters after they have cast their votes shall be inadmissible before the end of polling hours."

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 07:27 PM

German Election: Mini-Drone Incident Shows Security Failings

Germany's federal police failed to take action when a miniature drone threatened the safety of Chancellor Angela Merkel last week. Zoom

Germany's federal police failed to take action when a miniature drone threatened the safety of Chancellor Angela Merkel last week.

Last week, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which is responsible for Chancellor Angela Merkel's security during the run-up to the election on Sept. 22, cemented its already muddied reputation by failing to take action at a campaign event in Dresden when a miniature drone circled above the audience.

Merkel, who had been about to give a speech alongside Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, was left unattended for several minutes before the 40-centimeter (16-inch) aircraft finally came crashing down at her feet. The BKA defended its failure to take action in an internal report seen by SPIEGEL. Though the officers on the ground had considered shutting down the event and evacuating the chancellor, a "tactical evaluation" had prompted them to remain inactive.

Officers had seen fit to let the events unfold, after concluding that the "threat of panic and the possible damage to the reputation of the protected person" meant that an intervention would not have been beneficial. The size of the miniature drone allowed them to deduce that it did not contain explosives.

The report indicates that the officers present had considered umbrellas -- brought to the event due to the rainy weather -- and a plastic sign held at the ready on the stage as adequate protection for the chancellor.

It wasn't the first time German security forces embarrassed themselves of late when it comes to ensuring the safety of the chancellor. Less than eight weeks ago, a drugged-up man in underpants was able to board the Christian Democrat's military jet and stage a one-man rave lasting for hours. Criticism of the federal police and air force intensified when it emerged that the intruder had even managed to cuddle up in the chancellor's bedto sleep off his marijuana and ecstasy-induced high before officers caught on to the security breach.

Pirates Responsible

Soon after the drone incident in Dresden, the Pirate Party released a statement confirming it was responsible for the stunt. "The intention was two-fold: firstly, to draw attention to the government surveillance scandal, and secondly to put de Maizière's Euro Hawk failings back on the agenda," Markus Barenhoff, deputy head of the party, told SPIEGEL ONLINE at the time.

The Pirate Party member responsible for operating the miniature drone, a 33-year-old computer scientist named Kay Ködel, told SPIEGEL his actions were a political protest intended to draw attention to the fact that since reunification, Germany has slowly been returning to its former status as a surveillance state. "The goal of the effort was to make Chancellor Merkel realize what it's like to be subjected to drone observation," he said.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 07:27 PM

Live Coverage: Join Us As Germany Votes on Sunday

SPIEGEL ONLINE International will provide live reporting on Germany's national election on Sunday starting at 5 p.m. CET (4 p.m. London, 11 a.m. New York, 8 a.m. San Francisco). Join us for the country's most authoritative coverage.

Germany is the world's fourth and Europe's largest economy. Its leader, Angela Merkel, has been named the world's most powerful woman by Forbes magazine. And Berlin is pivotal to solving a euro crisis that has presented the gravest threat to the European Union since its creation more than 50 years ago. When Germans vote for a new leader, it is relevant from Berlin to Boston to Beijing, so all eyes will be on the country this Sunday as Merkel seeks her third term as chancellor.

A tight race is shaping up between German parties ahead of the federal election, which could make for a suspenseful evening on Sunday. The latest polls suggest incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel's current coalition government has a slight lead and could gain re-election on Sunday. But that outcome is far from certain, with polls showing her junior coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), just barely eking out the five percent of the vote required to stay in parliament.

It is fairly likely that Merkel will be re-elected, but who will she govern with? The FDP or the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), her conservative party's classic archrival, in a grand coalition government? With few prospects of winning the election with their own chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück, SPD strategists in recent days have been hoping for a strong enough election showing to catapult the party into a power-sharing government with Merkel.

Visit our site on Sunday for full live coverage of the election starting at 5 p.m. and ending early Monday morning.

Our coverage will include:

    A live ticker of the latest news developments
    Exit poll data (at 6 p.m.)
    Early election-night forecasts
    Official results
    News
    Authoritative analysis and opinion from our correspondents We will follow up in the days immediately following the election with in-depth analysis from SPIEGEL ONLINE and, starting Wednesday, SPIEGEL's special post-election magazine, exploring the results and the likely composition of the next government in Berlin.

So join us on Thursday night. We also encourage you to Tweet your comments using the hashtags #spiegel_english and #btw13.
URL:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/live-coverage-with-spiegel-international-for-german-federal-election-a-923602.html


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« Reply #8862 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:03 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/19/2013 03:16 PM

Multicultural Germany: How We Experience Racism

By SPIEGEL Staff

Several recent controversies in Germany -- from the treatment of refugees to the obstacles faced by immigrants in the job market -- have thrown the issue of racial discrimination into the limelight. SPIEGEL spoke to 15 people of foreign descent to find out how racism affects their daily lives.

Last month, a newly opened shelter for asylum seekers in the Berlin neighborhood of Hellersdorf became the scene of heated protests by far-right demonstrators. But the controversy was only the most recent reminder that racism remains a serious problem in Germany. Far-right violence against immigrants has become endemic in parts of the country, while in the bigger cities, discrimination tends to be subtler if also widespread -- as seen with the recent scandals over racist door policies at nightclubs in Berlin and racial profiling by the Hamburg police.

In the spirit of public debate, SPIEGEL spoke to 15 people with foreign roots living in Germany to find out how racism plays into their daily lives. From the German-born housewife who was told to "go home" and treated like a terrorist after she decided to start wearing a headscarf, to the 79-year-old retiree whose family was killed at Auschwitz and still regularly gets insulted as a "gypsy" -- their stories paint a complicated, disturbing picture of the state of multiculturalism in a Germany still rife with nativist tendencies.

There are plenty of success stories -- a professional soccer player, a city treasurer and a parliamentarian are among those given a voice here. But even they have faced their fair share of discrimination. Lincoln Assinouko, a forward for a regional team in Lower Saxony, has been peppered with racial epithets by members of an opposing team. And Green Party Berlin representative Omid Nouripour has staff who help him sort through the piles of racist and Islamophobic hate mail he continuously receives.

Click through to read their stories in their own words.

Lewis Otoo
"In science class, we inflated chocolate-covered marshmallows to see how they burst. On three different days, our teacher called them by their old German name, n-word kisses, instead of the new, less offensive term, chocolate kisses. In the evening, I told my mom, who's on the school's diversity committee. The next day, she wrote an email to the school that said, 'Don't we want to agree that that word isn't okay?' The third day, the teacher said the n-word again, then put her hand over her mouth and said, 'Oh, but I'm not allowed to say that.' She asked if anyone could explain why. I raised my hand and said we don't use the n-word because people used to use it to insult black people. But then the teacher wanted to see my cell phone and said I must have used it to call my mom. We're not allowed to make calls in school. I told her I hadn't called my mom -- I had told her about the n-word in the evening. And that the teacher had used that word three times now. She said she'd only said it one time, and took my cell phone away. The days after that I had to give it to her too, and I didn't get it back until after class. It didn't stop until my stepfather complained to the teacher in person. But she didn't apologize."

Natalia Drechsler
"I come from Russia and have lived in Germany for 15 years. The fact that I'm employed, that I was married to a German and don't rely on government assistance, and that I nevertheless still don't have a permanent residency permit -- that's not what I want to talk about right now. I'm more concerned with one tiny detail. My most recent visit to the local authorities two months ago made a deep impression on me. The official there asked for my fingerprints, saying this was one of the requirements that must be met in order to obtain permanent residency. So he took and stored my fingerprints. I asked my German boyfriend, who was there with me, whether he had had to undergo the same procedure in order to get his German identification card. The German official explained that German citizens are not obligated to provide fingerprints, only foreigners. Fingerprints are used to track down criminals, which means that I, as a foreigner, am automatically considered a potential criminal, while Germans aren't."

Lincoln Assinouko
"I'm a forward for my team. Swear words get used a lot during matches -- that's just a part of a physical team sport, part of playing a contact sport. But during a league game in the winter of 2011 with a team from the bottom half of the league rankings, the two central defenders provoked me from the very first minute -- it was vulgar, below the belt, hurtful. I don't want to repeat the words they used, but they were extremely racist and had to do exclusively with my ancestry and my skin color. I tried just not to listen, but eventually I was so angry that I couldn't concentrate on the game anymore. My coach pulled me out at the 70th minute and we decided together to report the incident, which led to a sports court trial. I had some concerns beforehand. What if they didn't believe me? But luckily there were witnesses who confirmed my statement. Both the defenders were banned. The other thing about this that really made me think was that one of the two defendants was in training at the time to become a police commissioner."

Tsepo Bollwinkel Keele
"Whenever I tell people I'm a professional musician, I get the same annoying comment in response. No wonder, they say -- after all, music is in my blood. My standard answer to that is, 'No, I practiced.' I see this as another form of racism. People don't mean it badly, I know that, but by saying that, they're expressing racist stereotypes and propagating racism, without stopping to think about what they're doing. As if being black means a person automatically knows how to sing and dance."

Nguyen Thi Hien Thuy
"After finishing my bachelor's degree in 2011, I wanted to do an internship. I found plenty of offers online. But everywhere I applied, I was turned down -- each time, the position was supposedly already filled. Other Vietnamese students in my program had the same experience, while the German students almost never had trouble finding an internship. Eventually I decided to get a master's degree, so I would be at a higher level."

Aziza Janah
"Eight years ago, I made the decision to wear a headscarf and since then my life has been a different one. My father came from Morocco to Hamburg, where he worked at the port and later as a sports director for the police. My mother is German. No one forced me to take this step. It was my decision. A while ago, I was at a bus stop and left a package unattended for just a moment -- passersby were alarmed, thinking I was about to set off a bomb. At a Lidl supermarket, an elderly man started insulting me for no reason: 'What are you doing here? We don't want you here!' The bus driver no longer says hello to me, since I started wearing a headscarf. When I wore a burqini -- a full-body swimsuit -- to the swimming pool, the lifeguard reprimanded me, claiming my swimsuit disturbed the other swimmers. Some people see me as the victim of a supposedly archaic culture that discriminates against women. Others see me as a dangerous fanatic, an Islamist. I am not accepted as a self-confident woman who wears a headscarf."

Adetoun Küppers-Adebisi
"I come from Lagos, Nigeria, and I came to the German city of Solingen with my parents as a child. Sometimes someone on the street would say, 'You're a poor child' and give me five marks. I later studied engineering in Mannheim and Cologne, then worked as an industrial engineer in Berlin. My colleagues there quickly made clear what they thought of me -- nothing. When we sat down in the company cafeteria together, suddenly they were experts on Africa, acting as if they knew everything about the continent, better than I did. But eventually that grew too boring for them. Data started disappearing from my computer. At my presentations, the projector would be missing. I developed strategies: I logged out every evening before going home, stored my data on a USB stick and made copies of presentations. I didn't let it show any more than they did. Then my contract expired."

Apostolos Tsalastras
"A Greek, of all things! That's what a lot of journalists thought in 2011, when I became city treasurer in Oberhausen, one of the most deeply indebted cities in Germany. And that's more or less what they wrote as well. It was an exciting story for them, a curiosity, and that was okay at first. What wasn't okay was that after more than a year, my Greek roots were still a story, still part of the message being communicated. For many journalists it was less about content, about the question: How do you plan to solve Oberhausen's problems? Far more, the question was: Where do you come from? How crazy! I was born in Germany, in Hilden, a city in the Rhineland. I studied economics in Germany. My parents came to Germany from Greece a long time ago, in the early 1960s, as 'guest workers,' as they were called at the time. That, though, is completely irrelevant to my work as treasurer. In Oberhausen itself, incidentally, my background has never been an issue. No city resident has ever commented on it, no colleague in the city administration, not even a political opponent. It was a purely a media struggle with journalists."

Artiom Karpovich
"I wouldn't say there's ever been anything especially terrible. I came here from Belarus with my mother, went to preschool and at first everything was fine. But when I started school, the prejudice started too. They called me 'Russian,' and when my father brought me to school in his relatively nice car, they would say, 'Typical Russians, with their nice cars.' They didn't say the word 'stolen,' but it was there in the room. Later, in secondary school, one of my teachers would always give me a severe look whenever something about Putin came up, for example when the women from Pussy Riot were arrested. As if I could do something about it, as if I were Putin, as if all Russians were Putin. That's not really so bad, but it's annoying. It's also annoying when I'm in a store and talking to relatives on the phone in Russian, and I see how some of the women pull their purses closer and clutch them tightly."

Olgun Eksi
"For many customers, my bald head makes me a pimp and my stubble makes me an Islamist. I was born at the fish market and grew up in my father's export business on Hamburg's Reeperbahn street. Now we run a convenience store. I'm sure there must be a secret workshop somewhere where people learn the standard questions to ask Turkish storeowners: Do you own this store? How are things in the drug business? Protection money? Big family looking out for you, huh? Big family? That would be my three little sisters."

Ali Güngörmüs
"I think Germany is a nice country and I'm glad to live here, but there are moments when that's not the case. When I was 24 and became a head chef, a friend of my boss at the time said to my boss, 'You don't want to make a Turk a head chef, do you?' And before I went to Hamburg at 28 to take over my first restaurant, I read in the newspaper, 'Will there soon be high-end döner at Le Canard?' That hit me hard. Behind it was the racist idea that because my name is Ali and I have black hair, döner must be the only thing I know how to make. People were thinking: He wants to take over Le Canard, one of Germany's most expensive restaurants? A lot of people talked that way. But for me it also served as an incentive. After about a year came the first star. And you know what? That was the end of the comments. If you're just a foreigner, that's a bad thing. But if you're a foreigner and successful, then it's okay. I had to work hard to be respected. Now, the things that still happen in the restaurant mostly strike me as funny. It doesn't affect me anymore. When one patron said, for instance, 'Mr. Güngörmüs, my wife and I were recently in your hometown, Istanbul.' 'Ah, nice,' I said. 'I like visiting Istanbul too, but it's not my hometown.' Or another patron, generally open-minded, who wanted to compliment me and said, 'These compositions of flavors from the region you come from…' I just asked calmly, 'Which flavors from which region do you mean?' He said, 'Well, the turbot with the cinnamon from your home…' And I said, 'You know, I grew up in Munich and cinnamon doesn't grow there.'"

Herrmann Höllenreiner

"I was nine years old when my family and I were deported to Auschwitz. The Nazis murdered half a million Sinti and Roma, which is something very few people know. To this day, I fight against ignorance and prejudice. When I moved to Mettenheim 50 years ago, people said 'antisocial' individuals were settling in the village. I ran an antique store and built a house here, yet I still sometimes get talked down to as a 'gypsy.'"

Omid Nouripour

"'Omnipour, you're one of these immigrant Kanake [a pejorative for immigrants from southern countries] that never get things right. You've never even seen the inside of a soldiers' barracks,' one commenter wrote. The topic was my area of specialty, defense policy. It's always the same, in online comments, emails and letters. I have to read such things almost daily. My staff separate them into xenophobic and Islamophobic letters and then they sort them into blogs, Facebook comments and letters. I came to Frankfurt from Iran when I was 13. Now, after several years in the Bundestag, I try not to take the insults personally anymore. Humor is the best way out of this sort of situation. When someone calls me -- an Iranian -- a 'damn Arab' and tells me to go 'back to Turkey,' all I can do is laugh that some commenters really are that dumb."

Sandrine Micossé-Aikins

"My husband and I were both born in Berlin, and we were looking for a new apartment here. It was more difficult than we expected. We're Afro-German. People don't hear that over the telephone, and landlords often think my name is French. We both earn good salaries, and we always got an apartment viewing appointment. But then when we got there, the atmosphere would be noticeably cooler. We looked for several months, with no luck. So my husband and I decided he wouldn't come along to the viewings anymore. When it was just me, apparently I seemed less threatening than a black man. One time, a real estate agent was very taken with us on the phone. I was one of just a few candidates who viewed the apartment, and I liked it, so I asked the agent for the forms to fill out. He asked if I was planning to apply for the apartment and when I said yes, he replied that it was a pity, since it wasn't going to work out. When I asked why, his reply was evasive -- there were already so many people interested, he said. Then he asked my husband's first name. When I told him, he said it would be very difficult for us. When I got home, my husband and I called the city senate's anti-discrimination office. The employee we talked to there said it was a clear case of racism and advised us to perform a comparison. So my mother called the agent. He was eager to talk her into coming for a viewing and didn't connect her with me. We had enough evidence at that point to take the case to court, but in the end we decided not to do it. It could have ended up being simply our word against his."

Deniz Berkpinar

"I found out what my colleagues really thought of me one day at lunchtime when I unwrapped a BiFi brand salami. 'You eat pork? Never seen a Turk do that. I don't understand it anyway, why these Muslims don't eat pork. What idiots.' For two years, no one bothered to learn my name. It was always 'Where's the Turk?' if someone was looking for me. I'm not a Muslim, and I'm not a Turk. I'm German, born in Cologne. I recently had a date with a woman. She only knew my first name. I'd just shaved. In the middle of the conversation, she said, 'I wasn't sure, but thank God, you're not a Turk.' I didn't call her again."

BY ANTONIA BAUER, SVEN BECKER, TOBIAS BECKER, ÖZLEM GEZER, BARBARA HARDINGHAUS, ANNA KISTNER, KATRIN KUNTZ, MIRIAM OLBRISCH, MAXIMILIAN POPP, GORDON REPINSKI, ANNE-KATRIN SCHADE AND TAKIS WÜRGER

**************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 03:57 PM

Euro Bailout Fund: Germans Pay Less Than Their Neighbors

A new study shows that Germany contributes less per person to the permanent euro bailout fund than residents of several other countries in the European Union. Luxembourg, Holland and Ireland are among the nations paying more per capita.

Germany transfers less money per citizen into the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) than other euro-zone countries, SPIEGEL has learned. Although Germany contributes a larger portion of the permanent euro bailout fund than any other country -- 27 percent -- it also has the largest population and strongest economy in the European Union.

When the contributions of the ESM member countries are adjusted according to each country's respective population, Germany ranks fifth. That's the finding of a review of the Luxembourg-based euro fund authored by EU parliamentarian Elmar Brok, a member of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats.

According to his assessment, each German taxpayer contributed an average of €264.80 ($358.46) to the ESM over the past year. Luxembourg, by comparison, contributed €373 per person, with Ireland, the Netherlands and Finland also paying more per capita than Germany. The smallest adjusted contribution comes from Estonia, the newest member of the 17-country currency union.

EU member states have contributed some €48 billion to the rescue authority to date. The cash contribution of the ESM is expected to increase to a total of €80 billion by mid-2014, with the next installment due in October.

SPIEGEL/chw

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 05:41 PM

Secret Code: Music Score May Lead to Nazi Gold

By Björn Hengst and Benjamin Dürr

After some initial digs, a Dutch filmmaker believes he may have found the site of buried Nazi treasure long rumored to exist. He was led to the Bavarian town of Mittenwald after cracking a code believed to be hidden in a music score.

Three attempts have been made in recent weeks to find buried Nazi treasure in the Bavarian town of Mittenwald, close to the Austrian border. Even though the holes in the ground have since been filled, the traces left by drills and blue markings are still visible below a thin layer of autumn leaves.

Authorities granted permission for the undertaking in "a bid for clarity," and before too long, the story was making headlines in local papers. "The Hunt for Nazi Gold," the Garmisch-Partenkirchner Tagblatt called it.

Residents' reactions range from annoyed to amused. "I've never seen anything like it," says one. "I can't wait to see what they find down there," says another.

Behind it all is 51-year-old Leon Giesen, a Dutch filmmaker and musician with a tantalizing theory. He is convinced that Nazi treasure is languishing below Mittenwald's roads -- gold or diamonds, at the very least.

The whole idea of Nazi gold has long held a grip on the public imagination, and as a former Nazi stronghold, Bavaria provides fertile soil for many an aspiring Indiana Jones. In 1944, with the Allies and the Soviet Army threatening to advance, it was here that Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany, planned to build an Alpine Fortress -- a national redoubt where Nazi Germany would fight from until the end.

And that's not all. In April 1945, the Wehrmacht armed forces and officials of the Reichsbank approved a plan to store at least part of the reserves of the German Reichsbank at Einsiedl, a small town on the southwest shore of Lake Walchen. Much of these assets were handed over to the Allies, but around 100 gold bars, sacks of dollars and Swiss francs and possibly even more hoards went missing.

'Like a Treasure Map'

Even though Giesen's theory is an outlandish one by any standards, it has generated reams of publicity in his native Netherlands. It revolves around an annotated score of the "March Impromptu" by composer Gottfried Federlein.

Legend has it that in the final days of World War II, Adolf Hitler's private secretary Martin Bormann scribbled letters, figures and runes on the score that form a code giving the coordinates of the hidden Nazi treasure.

Supposedly, a military chaplain was tasked with taking the score to someone in Munich. But it apparently never arrived, instead ending up decades later in the hands of Dutch journalist Karl Hammer Kaatee.

After spending years attempting to crack the code, he finally made the score public last December and was promptly deluged with e-mails and suggestions. Even though there is no proof that the document is genuine, it exerts a magic pull on many.

"It's like a treasure map that can't be deciphered," says Jürgen Proske, a local historian from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and a hobby archeologist who has located Wehrmacht paraphernalia and a wine cellar from 1940 in the mountains around Mittenwald and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

The Mystery of Mittenwald

But filmmaker Giesen now believes he's solved the mystery, maintaining that the line added to the score that reads "Wo Matthias die Saiten Streichelt" ("where Matthew plucks strings") is a reference to Mittenwald and its famous son Matthias Klotz, who founded the town's violinmaking tradition. Moreover, he contends that the score contains a schematic diagram of the train tracks that ran through Mittenwald in the 1940s, and that the rune and fragmented sentence "Enden der Tanz" ("end the dance") at the end of the score means the treasure can be found at the former site of the buffer stops.

The drilling effort in Mittenwald proved fruitful, unearthing a large quantity of unidentified metals. "Geologists call it an anomaly, a substance that doesn't belong there," says Giesen. He is now looking for a company specialized in excavations and dealing with explosives to continue the hunt, and is hoping to pay the costs by raising €25,000 with a crowdfunding campaign. He is also considering making a documentary about the project.

Local historian Jürgen Proske has his doubts about the find. "It could be a treasure chest," he says. "But it could just be a manhole cover."

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Germany's shrinking cities: a view from Salzgitter

Ageing populations, abandoned shops, empty homes – analysts say Germany must act before it becomes full of ghost towns

Louise Osborne in Salzgitter
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 15.32 BST      

Lunchtime in Salzgitter. But there don't seem to be many people doing lunch.

A local market does desultory trade, with its meats, flowers and fruits. A few people wander past, but they cannot alter the impression: this town may have bustled once, but not any more.

Scenes like this are becoming more and more common in Germany's former west as industries wind back production and jobs become scarcer, forcing people to move away from towns and to cities to find work.

"Lots of people have moved away, lots of young people because there is not much work here," said Sabine Schübbe, 48, who was born in the town but expects her teenage children to move away soon. "The steel works is not taking people any more – many of the small companies have shut down. There is nothing here for the young people."

Founded during the second world war in 1942 to house workers from the nearby Hermann Göring steel works – and originally slated to be named after the Nazi air force leader before the failure of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain – Salzgitter has seen a decline in population over recent years.

The number of people living in Salzgitter reached almost 103,500 in 2009, and fell to 101,750 in 2011, according to Germany's federal statistics office. Analysts say it could fall further, forecasting a 9.2% drop by 2030.

The drop in population has led to houses being left empty and shops abandoned, say residents.

"If there are no jobs, there are no homes, and if it keeps going on, soon there won't be a town any more," said 78-year-old Herbert Haschke, a pensioner who has lived in the town since 1962. "All the young people go; we soon-to-be worm-fodder stay."

Shrinking cities, a phenomenon thought to be confined to the states that made up former East Germany, is increasingly plaguing former western states. Demographers say that among the places worst hit by the phenomenon are cities in Saarland, Lower Saxony, and Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

"It's something that happened early in the east – a lot of people migrated to the west," said Daniel Schiller, an economist at the Lower Saxony Institute for Economic Research (NIW) in Hanover. "But now more and more regions and cities in western Germany are being affected by the fact that the population is getting older and the birthrate is not high enough to replace the population."

Germany has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, with just 1.36 children born per woman. It is a trend that is leading to an ageing population, one that is likely to decrease from 2012's figure of 80.5 million inhabitants, according to 2012 figures, to around 65 million by 2060.

Because of this decline, Germany also faces growing pension and healthcare costs in the future.

The issue has played little role in this election campaign, however – something analysts put down to a reluctance among politicians to tell "hard truths" to voters.

"With shrinking populations, you have to reduce infrastructure, not build new schools, roads and sewerage systems," said Schiller. "I think it is something politicians know, but don't want to talk about. Nobody wants to hear that in certain regions infrastructure won't be maintained."

Others say Germany should act quickly to ensure it does not become full of ghost towns.

"Some cities are not so far from the example of Detroit," said Michael Voigtländer, a senior economist at the Institute for German Economy in Cologne. "You have to act early, if possible by tearing down empty buildings and developing so that the city grows inward, and think about what to do with the new space."

All the same, Salzgitter's lord mayor, Frank Klingebiel, is not ready to declare his town dead just yet. He believes people will stop leaving if the infrastructure here is upgraded. The town's demographic problems, he says, can be solved through better schools and facilities for young people, and more benefits for people who choose to start families.

"We have to put in money for the future," he said. "We are specialising in education, family and children. We have to do something special about this problem so the town is more attractive."


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« Reply #8863 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:05 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/20/2013 04:55 PM

Cyber Attack: Belgians Angered by British Spying

By Gregor-Peter Schmitz in Brussels

The hacking attack by Britain's GCHQ intelligence service on Belgian telecoms provider Belgacom has angered politicians in the country. Belgium plays host to the EU's top institutions as well as NATO, and Prime Minister Elio di Rupo is considering diplomatic retaliation.

Earlier on Friday, SPIEGEL reported that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency conducted cyber attacks against partially state-owned Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom, triggering a wave of outrage in the country.

"We will look very carefully at the information that SPIEGEL exposed this morning," Prime Minister Elio di Rupo said. The Belgian leader said his government deeply condemns such attacks on Belgacom's communications networks. If the hypothesis is confirmed, he said, his government would take the appropriate action.

Di Rupo added that Belgium was a popular target because it hosts many of the most important European Union institutions, universities and corporations, as well as NATO. He said his government would increase funding to increase Internet security and also move to decisively implement a new cyber strategy.

'The Virus Has Been Eliminated'

A "top secret" GCHQ presentation from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden indicates that the project, which carried the codename "Operation Socialist," was aimed at enabling "better exploitation of Belgacom" and at improving understanding of the provider's infrastructure. The presentation is undated, but a further document indicates that access has been possible since at least 2010.

Responding to questions from SPIEGEL, Belgacom, whose major customers include the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, said the firm first encountered signs of a virus internally on June 21. Four days later, the company hired an external consulting firm -- Fox IT of the Netherlands -- to examine the issue more closely. On July 16, executives of the company were then informed of the full scope. Belgacom has since referred the matter to prosecutors.

"The virus has been eliminated," a spokesman for Belgacom stated, and now the investigation is being conducted by government authorities.

'Merkel Has Massively Damaged United Europe '

Belgacom had been the subject of considerable criticism in recent days, because Belgian politicians had accused the company of not correctly stating the facts about the scale and background of the spying attacks. The Belgian daily Le Soir wrote recently, "Spying at Belgacom: It's far from over."

Suspicions in Belgium were initially directed at the NSA. According to the contents of the presentation, however, that suspicion cannot be confirmed. What it does indicate is that the British deployed a spying technology which was developed by the NSA. The GCHQ slides indicate the attack was directed at several Belgacom employees whose computers had been planted with spying software using an attack technology referred to in the slides as a "Quantum Insert" (QI).

Addressing recent reports of GCHQ spying on Europe, Jan Phillip Albrecht, a German member of the European Parliament with the Green Party, also directed highly critical remarks at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is preparing for a national election on Sunday. "With her silence about the massive surveillance measures of Britain's GCHQ intelligence service, Angela Merkel, as the most important EU leader, has massively damaged united Europe."


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« Reply #8864 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:10 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ....

Why Russia is an economic and political Janus

Pig Putin has a misdeveloped economy masked by high energy prices, and a peace process for Syria sitting precariously alongside a poor human rights record at home

Robert Skidelsky   
theguardian.com, Friday 20 September 2013 19.01 BST   

Russia presents two opposing faces to the world: one menacing, the other benign. Both have now combined, somewhat unexpectedly, to break the momentum carrying the United States, and possibly other western powers, toward a disastrous military intervention in Syria.

Russia's domestic situation remains deplorable. With the collapse of the planned economy in 1991, Russia proved to be not so much a developed as a misdeveloped country, unable to sell most of its products in non-captive markets.

So Russia regressed into a commodity-based economy, mainly selling energy, while its talented scientists and technicians sought jobs abroad and its intellectual life decayed. Russia is also, no surprise, blighted by corruption, which drives away foreign investment and costs the country billions of dollars annually.

This underlying debility has been masked by high energy prices, which, over the 14 years of President Pig Putin's rule, have allowed Russia to combine the features of a kleptocracy with per capita income growth sufficient to quell dissent and create a shopping-mad middle class. The accumulation of reserves from the oil and gas industries can be used to develop much-needed infrastructure. But, for all the Kremlin's talk of diversification, Russia remains an economy with a Latin American, rather than a western profile.

Russia's politics are equally dispiriting. If western foreign policy has a guiding principle, it is the promotion of human rights. This has not influenced the Russian government's domestic or foreign policies in the slightest. Instead, under the credo of "managed democracy", the Pig has established a soft dictatorship, in which the law is flagrantly used for political ends; and, when the law is insufficient, the state resorts to assassination.

As for human rights that are particularly valued in the contemporary west – those of dissenters and minorities, including sexual minorities – Russia seems to be on a completely different wavelength. Independent NGOs are harassed and dubbed "foreign agents". Putin has appealed to Russia's most reactionary forces by restricting gay people's rights with legislation that western countries abandoned years ago.

The decision to allow opposition leader Alexei Navalny to stand in Moscow's recent mayoral election was a welcome move toward a more open system, but the political calculation behind it and the likelihood of vote rigging to prevent a runoff against his victorious opponent hardly suggest a Pauline conversion to democracy. The Putin regime occupies a space between dictatorship and democracy for which western political science has yet to find a proper word.

But perhaps Russia's indifference to human rights is a source of strength, not weakness. The trouble with the human-rights agenda is that its advocates become trigger-happy, whereas Russia's foreign policy displays the virtues of conservative prudence. Its realism, which is shared by China, is thus an important counterbalance to the west's intemperate urge to meddle in the domestic affairs of countries that do not live up to its proclaimed standards.

The case of Syria is a good example of this. There is no doubt that chemical weapons were used to kill hundreds of civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August. The full facts have yet to be established – perhaps they will never be. It is probable, though not certain, that sarin gas was used by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

But, in a recent newspaper commentary, Pig Putin raised a question that has surely occurred to others: what were the regime's motives in using chemical weapons in the glare of international publicity? Putin suggested that the attack might have been "provocation" by Assad's opponents. I do not claim to know the answer; but, as in any criminal investigation, the motive of possible suspects is always the right place to start. Who stood to gain?

True, Russians are prone to conspiracy theories.This is common in countries with an opaque power structure. But it is also true that the Syrian state is not centralised in the presidency, as was Egypt under former Hosni Mubarak. Even if Pig Putin's "provocation" thesis is dismissed, it is possible that the chemical attacks were unleashed by rogue elements in the Syrian army, whose culpability Assad had to deny to preserve his own position.

Of course, the Pig might know whereof he speaks. Many Russians believe that the Russian apartment bombings of September 1999, which killed almost 300 people, were plotted by elements of Russia's own security services to provoke retaliation against the Chechens and propel Putin into the presidency on the back of a popular war. To this day, it is not known for certain who was behind the attacks.

The point is that under political systems as obscure as those in Syria – and Russia – no one knows who really controls what. It defies belief that the political successors of those who confidently launched the invasion of Iraq on the false evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction should be so eager to be sucked into another bloody maelstrom.

They have been saved from this folly, at least temporarily, by Pig Putin's proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international supervision and then destroy all of them. There are large practical difficulties in achieving this, and the Russian proposal, which has now been embraced by Barack Obama, does not meet the western demand for punishment. But it has interrupted the momentum toward military intervention.

Geopolitical calculations have, naturally, played a part in these maneuvres. Russia supports the Shia governments of Iran and Syria in order to secure its own position in the Middle East against US-backed Sunni rulers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, who are less of a threat to Israel. But, as it now stands, one can say that Pig Putin has rescued Obama from making a mistake that could have wrecked his presidency. He might well expect some political reward for doing so. But the Pig is unlikely to get it.


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